By Lauren Deal
Macon Community News
Looking at Charles Cheek’s beautiful, handmade quilts, it’s hard to imagine that he never picked up a sewing needle before 2010. He practiced taekwondo, rode motorcycles, and raised a tomboy in his daughter, Jessica, who shares his goofball personality, but he didn’t try handcrafting textiles until a dream guided him.
“I had a dream one night that I was sewing. There are many instances in the Bible where God gave people direction through dreams, and I don’t look for them, but here I was, training in taekwondo several days a week, working in networking, and riding Harley Davidsons,” he remembers. “It was so out of character for me.”
Charles felt led by his faith that God was prodding him to act. He started to call around to various locations in Macon to find someone who taught a sewing class: “One of the places I called was Couture Sewing Center, half a mile from my office, and they said, ‘well yeah, we’re teaching a beginner class in two days—do you want to sign up?’ I said, yeah.”
He was so embarrassed to be taking a sewing class that he hid it from his wife, Cyndi Cheek. This was no small feat, as the two of them work in the same building, and he had to attend two-hour classes twice a week.
“So, I started attending these classes, and after about two weeks, Cyndi called me, and she said, ‘Okay, where are you? I’ve had about enough of this,’” Charles recalls, chuckling. “That’s when I told her. She said I could have told her about it, but I’d been too embarrassed.”
He laughs more, remembering how he was the only man in a group of around six women, using the pink sewing machine provided by Couture. “I went to the first class, and since I didn’t have my own machine, they took one of a box, and it was pink, and they said to me, ‘Go ahead and load your bobbin, and…’ I said, WHOA, I have no clue know what you just said. They had to show me everything.”
Charles remembers his first two sewing projects: a pair of pajamas and a quilted tote bag. Since Charles had grown up with quilts, doing the quilting struck him. “I just started trying on my own, and the first quilt I ever made, I still have,” he says. “The dog sleeps on it every night.”
When he finished his sewing class, Charles bought his first sewing machine from the ladies at Couture Sewing Center. “I told them I wanted to buy a sewing machine, and it didn’t matter what it was as long as it wasn’t pink. They told me that the next one up that wasn’t pink was $100 more, and I told them, I don’t care.” He still has that machine, and he still uses it.
“When I started making quilts, I started buying fabric, and I was buying 50% fabrics on sales,” Charles says. “It got to the point where Cyndi said, ‘If you’re going to spend this much money on fabric, you’re going to have to start selling these things.”
From such humble (and humorous) beginnings, Charlie Cheek Quilts was born.
When Charles decided to begin making quilts to sell, he began taking professional quilting classes. An internet search led him to Dianne Dye in Roberta. “She had a quilting business in the old Crawford County elementary school building,” explains Charles. She taught him how to create heirloom-quality quilts using a combination of techniques on sewing machines, long arm quilting machines, and hand-sewing.
From Dianne, Charles mastered the fundamentals of quilting. “To do the piecework in quilting, you have to be able to sew very straight lines, consistently, over an entire quilt, and you have to be able to iron the quilt evenly,” he explains, “because you can ruin a quilt just by ironing it poorly.”
Building a successful quilting company takes time. Perfecting sewing and quilting techniques, polishing design skills, and acquiring the expensive equipment needed to create fine workmanship is a slow and steady process, but Charles has a keen eye, a steady hand, and a strong work ethic. His sewing is meticulous to a fault, and the passion he brings to his work shines through in the final product. It is clear that has devoted himself to his calling. Any artisan or business owner can learn a lot from his experiences.
“From 2011 to 2015, I was running my business, and when I got to the stage of quilting a quilt, I would go to Dianne Dye’s on Saturday, and I would work all day,” he recalls. “I would pay her a rental fee, and I would drive out to Crawford County to her shop, then drive back. I didn’t make much money off those quilts, but I perfected my craft.” In 2015, Charles purchased his own long arm quilting machine, which he housed in a friend’s basement that he rented out for his shop.
Finally, in the summer of 2018, Charles was able to open his custom-designed quilting shop behind his home in sub-south Macon. The space is beautiful, filled with natural light, bright colors, and wood hues. His original sewing machine, which he still uses, sits in a loft with his embroidery machine and serger.
Charles’s passion as a quilter is making t-shirt quilts. “I take someone’s life, and I piece it together into a quilt that is unique to what the customer wants.” Some of the t-shirt quilts he’s designed to celebrate an accomplishment or a milestone in his customer’s life, such as a student’s athletic career, a child’s infant and toddler years, or a graduate’s educational experiences.
Other quilts memorialize the life of a family member for customers. Often, Charles finds himself ministering to these customers. “I have become convinced that God does give us dreams and ideas, and it’s up to us to do something with it, but I pray for the people as I make their quilts,” he says.
“I take these disparate things,” Charles says, gesturing to a large table where t-shirts and sweatshirts are laid out in the beginning stages of creating a memorial quilt, “and I present them a unified quilt that is the life of the person memorialized, and I see a lot of tears shed.”
It’s the subtle details Charles is able to bring out in his quilts that makes them so unique, from coordinated patterns of fabric that are often symbolic to the customer, to the texture he creates when he quilts his pieces together.
“I created quilts for one family where the mother and father had died,” Charles says. “ One of the daughters brought me 80 pounds of clothing, and I was able to make seven quilts out of that. The father had been in auto racing, and one of the items they brought me was his racing jumpsuit. It had his name embroidered on the fabric and a gold applique with his number on the back. She wanted that applique on every quilt. But I only had one.”
Charles goes on to explain how he solved this problem: “I went and found fabric that matched that color, I created the number 67 that matched the style of the numbers, and I got the duck canvas that matched his jumpsuit, and I re-created it for all of the quilts.”
His attention to detail has won Charles a number of awards at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, and as he has honed his craft, he has earned professional quilter certification through an arduous process of learning and demonstrating advanced quilting techniques to the expert craftsmen at American Professional Quilting Systems.
His work has also been displayed at Couture Sewing Center in Macon, and on his Facebook page, Charlie Cheek Quilts.
As his business has grown, Charles has touched many lives. He starts quilting at 4 o’clock on weekdays, until he goes to his job as a network administrator. Charles often resumes quilting in the evenings when he returns home. Many of his weekends are also devoted to quilting.
One day, Charles plans to retire so that he can quilt full-time. “What I really want to do is teach a quilting class. There are several fantastic quilters, who are artists really, but they are all around my age or older. I want to introduce a new generation to it.”
Until that time, Charles will continue to use his gift, and his passion, to touch the lives of the families who trust him to preserve their memories for generations to come.
You can find more information about Charlie Cheek Quilts on Facebook.