Bea Lee, 38, is a quilter, blogger, and mother of four who understands what it’s like to multi-task, even if it means having her three-year-old daughter sit in her lap and help her remove pins in a sewing project. With four children at home—two under the age of five—Bea always finds time to quilt every day and has countless designs to show for it.
You must have pure, unapologetic passion for what you do in order to conduct the kind of balancing act that Bea performs on a daily basis. It just confirms that you can accomplish quite a bit as long as you are doing something you love.
You’ve been quilting since 2004 … when did you start sewing?
I learned to sew in school in Denmark in maybe 4th or 5th grade. I remember making a tie string bag with an appliquéd mushroom on it (don’t know why I picked a mushroom … maybe because it didn’t have any straight edges). I later made a sweater in typical 80s colors! Teal, purple and blue.
When did you leave Denmark? Have you ever lived anywhere else besides North Carolina?
I left in 1996 to go to college in Florida to study Computer Animation at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale (my dream was to work for Disney), then I met my husband after maybe 2-3 months and the rest is history!
We lived in Fort Lauderdale for eight years and our son was born there. I was four months pregnant with our oldest daughter when we moved to North Carolina for my husband’s job … we got transferred up here with 2 weeks’ notice! I have now passed the time where I’ve lived in the U.S. more than I have in Denmark.
With four beautiful children, how do you find the time to create so many projects?
Oh, I just ignore housework [laughter]. I just love it so much I can’t help it; I have to do it every day. I also have a list of projects and that keeps me motivated. I just always seem to add at least two to the bottom each time I cross out one thing.
I often work on more than one project at a time, so if one project is really boring or tedious I work on it as a leader and ender project, then when it’s almost done it becomes my primary project and something else becomes my leader and ender one.
Are any of your children showing an interest in your quilting world?
Maybe my 3-year-old daughter Sonja. She mostly likes to get fabrics out of my scrap bins and cut them into tiny little pieces or pin them together. When she was around two years old, she would sit in my lap while I sewed and help take the pins out and stick them in a pincushion.
From left to right: Sonja (3), husband Dan, Bjorn (13), Solveig (11), Bea and Anja (at 6 weeks in this photo)
Your degree is in computer animation … how has this skill set revealed itself in your work?
I love cartoony things and bright colors, like my first published quilt that was in McCall’s—the Hootie owl quilt. So, I think my degree and my knowledge of sewing and colors is a great fit for quilting.
What other type of work did you do before you began quilting full-time?
I worked in office jobs and also worked for years on and off as a waitress in between having kids … more so to get out of the house and not just talk baby stuff and deal with poopy diapers!
It’s funny because I’m a very sociable person … I love waitressing, but I also love sitting in solitude and quilting and sewing all day. Go figure!
What are some of your favorite sewing and quilting supplies?
I also have an awesome quilt room/studio, where I have all my fabrics folded and displayed on open shelves, a huge table in the middle with my machine and laptop on it, and I don’t have to clean this up every day! I also have a nice design wall and ironing space that I love.
Who are some of your favorite quilters?
Alex Andersen … I used to watch her quilting shows on TV even before I started quilting and thought the quilts were amazing. I also admire Eleanor Burns. Plus, I follow the blogs of other quilters who I truly admire … so many talented quilters out there!
If you could invent something that would help quilters, what would it be?
A robot that would cook and clean so we can quilt in peace!:)
What advice would you give to someone who wants to quilt, but just doesn’t know where to start?
Start with something small and fabrics that you LOVE and an easy pattern. If you want to take a class, do so or watch YouTube or just look online. Also, find a quilt buddy! When you sew/quilt with a friend you inspire each other and grow together. And join a quilt guild for inspiration and fellowship.
Do you have any favorite quilting books?
My favorite books include Kaleidoscope the Smart Way by Sharon Sebrow and Bargello Quilts with a Twist by Maggie Ball. Also, Beautiful Bargello by House of White Birches. I made the one on the cover … it took a long time and a lot of work, but it’s probably one of my favorite quilts I’ve ever made.
What are some of your favorite lines of fabrics?
I’m partial to anything from Island Batik as I’m an ambassador for them. I also love Connecting Threads and have my patterns for sale through them. Another line or artist is Jason Yenter–stunning fabrics!
What made you start long arm quilting?
After I won some ribbons at our local county fair, my husband was hanging out with me while I sewed and he flipped through quilting magazines and saw that I was struggling with quilting a quilt on my domestic machine and he suggested a long arm machine. I thought it was too much money and couldn’t justify it, but he researched them and came up with the Voyager17 by Hinterberg, and it wasn’t as much as we thought.
Is there a dream project you want to eventually tackle?
I’d love to write my own quilt book one day.
Your pincushion creations are so great. How many do you have?
I host a pincushion swap on my blog/website and have been doing it for over three years, and some of us have participated since then, so there’s quite a collection!
Just some of Bea's pincushion collection, which at last count was over 60
Do you give a lot of your quilts away?
Yes, since my long arm business died I’ve just made quilts for fun, and I love giving them away. I give them to my guild to give away to hospitals or veterans, etc. I also give to my church. I feel like God gave me this gift of creativity and I found it in quilting, so I find great joy in giving back and being a blessing to others. Sometimes I’m anonymous, sometimes I’m not … I either make the whole quilt from beginning to end and add a label to it, or I just long arm a quilt for my guild for them to finish and give away.
I also love to sew cute little outfits for Sonja and soon for Anja too using my cotton fabrics. I also like to make stuffed animals/dolls and things with my embroidery machine.
What is your idea of the perfect evening?
I love being at home with my family, I don’t sew much in the evenings unless I haven’t done any all day, but just hanging out and watching TV with the family or having friends over on weekends and having dinner and playing a board game is great.
If you could leave on a two-week vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I’d love to go to Hawaii, Australia or back home to Denmark, but I pretty much have a staycation at home every day.
See some of Bea's beautiful work below!
A University of North Carolina Log Cabin quilt that Bea made for a friend
A QR Barcode quilt Bea made for her husband's office
One of Bea's favorite quilts - Bargello design
Bea's scrappy Hexagon quilt
Baha Sunset - a quilt Bea made for McCall's
Women of the Bible quilt
To learn more about Bea and to see some of her creations, visit her at Beaquilter. Additionally, see some of Bea's tutorials on our blog, including this fantastic GO! Qube project and these great Pumpkin Pot Holders.
Lynette A. Griffin is the Journalist Extraordinaire at AccuQuilt, and if you have a quilting story to share, she wants to hear it at email@example.com.