Sister’s ‘no’ leads to new career |

Sister’s ‘no’ leads to new career

Sally J. Taylor
Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal Quilter Robert Callaham, left, holds one of his quilts with Chris Hansen at Silver Springs Elementary School recently.

When Robert Callaham made a not-so-simple request of his sister in 1989, he embarked on a career-changing journey.

She had occasionally made shirts and such for him, so he asked her to make a double-wedding-ring quilt.

“She told me, no way was she going to do it for me. If I wanted one, I could do it myself,” Callaham said.

So the retail garden center manager from Orange, Calif., did just that. He discovered he had a talent not only for the intricate sewing work, but for design. Unable to find many patterns, especially for appliqué, Callaham created his own.

His designs, which often combine appliqué and patchwork, are influenced by ornate Baltimore floral appliqué and the more symmetrical designs of the 1930s and ’40s.

“I like the graphic appearance of quilting,” said Callaham, 45, who now creates his designs in Yerington, to which he moved in 1995.

Today, Callaham works for RJR Fabrics as a consultant and in product development designing fabric patterns. His quilt designs are carried regularly in McCalls Quilting and other quilt magazines, and he has appeared on quilt shows on HDTV and DIY channels.

Saturday, Callaham will display some of his quilts at the Silver Springs Fiber Arts/Quilt Show at the Silver Springs Elementary School from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and judge entries.

When Callaham began quilting and entered quilt or fabric stores, he said, the women rushed to help the man who must have wandered into the wrong store. He still gets attention, but now he’s well-known as an authority on quilting and appliqué.

Next month, Callaham travels to Texas for a trade show, then to New York to oversee production of a new fabric line, and back to Southern California, where he works with graphic designers to create new patterns on computers.

Callaham frequently receives invitations to teach and speak at quilting seminars and retreats nationwide, but because of his commitments to RJR Fabrics, he limits those trips, which must be planned a year or two in advance.

Local quilters have an advantage. He regularly teaches classes at the Quilt House in Gardnerville and Windy Moon Quilts in Reno.

Classes, seminars and retreats along with magazines and television shows plus better materials and tools have attracted many more people to the craft.

“In the past, when I fell into it, most patterns were not published. They were passed down. That’s the main reason most of us started designing,” he said.

“In the past 10 years, it’s really booming.”