Julia L. Blackwood, a fabric artist and designer for more than 30 years, died of pneumonia April 4 at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. The Davidsonville resident was 56.
The former Julia Lampson was born into an artistic family and raised in Hartford, Conn. She was a graduate of the Oxford School in Connecticut and studied art history at Smith College.
"As a young person, she was drawn to fabric and made her own clothes," said her husband of 36 years, J. Temple Blackwood, headmaster of Queen Anne School in Upper Marlboro. "She had an extraordinarily well-developed sense of design, color, shape, form and texture, and knew how to combine all of these elements."
Mrs. Blackwood studied pattern-making to design her own clothing. She mixed the dyes to create the colors she envisioned.
Early in her career, she made colorful, whimsical clothing, jackets, pants and capes, which were later known as wearable art. One such piece was a striped hooded watermelon cape that Mrs. Blackwood had quilted and dyed right down to the black seeds.
"She had quite a sense of humor with some of her pieces," her husband said. "She took great care with her pieces. They had to be right and perfect. It was important to her that an armhole be as well-done as the outside of a piece."
Mrs. Blackwood was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1980. She adapted to the disabling disease to continue her artwork.
"Her doctors said she had the hands of an 80-year-old," her husband said. "The larger wearable art pieces had become heavy and hard for her to handle so she became an art quilter with her own designs."
Mrs. Blackwood worked in a home studio that she had stuffed with threads, yarns and bolts of material that she used to create quilted hanging wall pieces, quilts, belts and cummerbunds.
"She acknowledged her arthritis and to look at her hands, you didn't think she could do the work. However, she was more interested in encouraging others and keeping up with the work flow," said Susan T. McLaughlin, owner of Capital Quilts in Gaithersburg, where Mrs. Blackwood liked to work.
"She was a very gifted quilter and was able to take a pattern, ignore the rules, add lots of color and make something that was different and sparkled," Mrs. McLaughlin said. "She was not the least bit didactic and liked being an encouraging teacher."
As her hands continued to deteriorate, Mrs. Blackwood turned to knitting about eight years ago.
"At Christmas, she made felted bowls for the staff and class members," said Jacqui R. Rose, owner of WoolWinders, a Rockville knitting salon.
"She was one of the loveliest people in the world, and creativity emanated from every pore," said Mrs. Rose. "Julie was in a class by herself."
Mrs. Blackwood liked to arrive several hours ahead of the 11 a.m. opening of Mrs. Rose's store and would sit in her car busily knitting.
"I'd go out to her car and rap on the window and invite her into the store. She'd say, 'I don't want to bother you,' but eventually, I got her to knock on the door and I'd let her in," she said.
"Knitting became her therapy. She'd knit every night after dinner, seven days a week, until 11 p.m.," her husband said.
Mrs. Blackwood was also an accomplished cook and liked entertaining.
"She brought the same level of creativity to her recipes that she brought to her other work," her husband said.
"She gave me a wall-hanging quilt with a design of her own for our anniversary, which was March 27," Mr. Blackwood said.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. May 4 at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Leeland, in Upper Marlboro.
Also surviving are three sons, Andrew D. Blackwood of Queenstown, A. Starr Blackwood of Penobscot, Maine, and Alex R. Blackwood of Castine, Maine; and three grandchildren.