Debbie Powell grew up in Epsom, observing just about every kind of needlework but quilting. Her mother was skilled at knitting, crocheting, tatting, embroidery, and needlepoint. She did not care greatly for sewing, though, and taught her daughter––then a young teenager––how to make her own clothes. Powell was soon so accomplished that she made her own prom gowns. Later, married and raising her own children, she sewed professionally so that she could work at home.
Powell’s love of quilt-making dates to a class that she and her mother enrolled in at Vance-Granville Community College, taught by local quilter Peggy Stocks. Together they learned about hand-piecing quilts, and later Powell would go on to take a machine-quilting course. Though she enjoys and is very accomplished in hand stitching, she finds that it is both enjoyable and efficient to piece and quilt on a machine.
“People say, ‘Well that’s not purist, that’s not the real way to quilt,’ and I say to them, ‘I [knew] my grandmother, and if she had had my equipment, she would have used it.’”
Her first experience as a quilting instructor came when her friend, who was teaching a course, experienced a health issue and asked Powell to substitute. “I fell into teaching by accident, and I absolutely love it,” she says. She now teaches at her own business, Miss Lou’s Quilting Studio, on Route 1. Like her mentor, Peggy Stocks, Debbie Powell has encouraged many others to take up the art form that she loves. She feels that quilters are a special, generous sort of person: “I can honestly say I’ve never met one I didn't like.”
Powell emphasizes that a quilt-maker can express his or her creativity, as well as be authentically traditional, whether sewing by hand or with a machine. She tells students, “There are no rules and regulations, there are no quilt police. You just do what you want to do, and that is your creativity.” When it comes to patterns, she also encourages innovation, but finds that in North Carolina, the traditional patterns, like log cabin, remain the favorites. “They want to make art quilts, and they want to hang them,” she says of quilters, “but they want to go back to covering up with the log cabin.”