BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Nestled between Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce, a sewing machine hums, creating colorful peeks into nature by quilt artist Kim Georgina (“Geo”) Laffont. Her journey to the craft is as interesting and varied as her quilts.
This summer she and her husband, Julian, traveled through Europe, discovering Ostia Antica, a seventh-century archaeological site outside Rome. “There are amazing mosaics everywhere,” says Laffont. “I decided to recreate some of them in quilting.” It would keep her hands and mind active. A much-loved job had recently ended, and Laffont hoped to avoid an emotional black hole during the adjustment.
“I challenged myself to produce a quilt a day.” Going public with small quilted projects on social media to keep herself accountable, she didn’t expect the positive response. “It’s like a new job, and it’s wonderful.”
After 30 days, Laffont branched out into larger projects, requiring more time. After designing the pattern and selecting fabrics – often gleaned from forays into Port St. Lucie’s many thrift stores for clothes and remnants – Laffont machine-quilts, using a laborious free-form technique.
There was a learning curve. After announcing on Facebook that her quilts’ outer-edge bindings “are the bane of my existence,” her technique has improved. The more photos she posted, the more friends encouraged … and asked if they could purchase her work.
Mosaic artist Anita Prentice is a long-time friend. “We’re karmic sisters,” says Laffont. “Anita said, ‘Just do it! Don’t worry if it’s perfect!’” Prentice’s artwork also inspired Laffont to venture into fabric mosaics; she arranges tiny scraps of material on fusible webbing and irons into place before quilting.
Like her colorful creations, Laffont turned the scraps of her own life into something beautiful. Born in south London, Laffont and her younger sister lived with their father. “Mum left when I was two and didn’t come back until I was five.”
When Laffont broke her left arm the third time, doctors discovered that her humerus was hollow. An experimental procedure using calf marrow failed, but in ground-breaking surgery for that time, bone chips from her mother’s hip were transplanted successfully into her arm.
Embroiled in custody drama, she and her sister bounced around foster homes before their mother whisked them away to live on an old barge in the south of France. “It was sinking,” Laffont remembers. “Our job was to run home after school and turn the bilge pumps on. We were like feral kids; we never really had parenting.”
American conscientious objectors from the Vietnam War flocked to Europe on their way to Kathmandu, Nepal, and sometimes crashed on their couch. “Young bearded backpackers played marbles with us.” Unaccustomed to male influence, the girls soaked up the attention.
Laffont’s education in France continued in Amsterdam and back to London. “We never had a TV, just books. Then on boats I had more books. Even now, having books around me is a comfort.”
When Laffont’s mother married an American, the family moved to Park City, Utah; the culture shock was extreme. Other 14-year-old girls were into feathered hair, a la Charlie’s Angels. “I’d been running amok in the aggressive punk rock scene in London, all concerts and piercings. I couldn’t relate.”
Laffont dropped out of school at 16, taking a Greyhound to Fort Lauderdale where she crewed with friends in the marine delivery business. Training with a former captain of the famous Pride of Baltimore, a replica clipper, her sailing education increased exponentially. “He was phenomenal; he taught me everything.” In uncertain situations, Laffont says he’d answer, “Let’s try it,” a phrase that became the philosophy of her life.
Laffont sailed across the Atlantic at age 17, then taught sailing in Spain and the Caribbean before moving to California. “Mum worked hard for my green card, and I was in the States so seldom, I risked losing it. I’d promised to get my GED. I wanted my sister’s children to know their aunt. It was time.”
She also got married. Things started well: sailing, college, acting as camping hosts at a park, editing a weekly magazine. After divorcing, however, Laffont wanted year-round ocean access. Hawaii or Florida? In 2002, she returned to Fort Lauderdale. Three years later, she met her future husband on Valentine’s Day; they married in November.
Laffont’s business degrees landed her a job, marketing for the University of Miami’s medical school – until the recession hit. When social media skyrocketed, the PR business virtually changed overnight. She lost two jobs, then her house. Her dog died. “I was in a black hole.”
As a Buddhist, Laffont tries to approach life with compassion, but acknowledges she is still deeply entrenched in her hardened London attitude. She and Julian withdrew their savings and invested in properties. “We decided we’d never again be at the whim of the economy.”
Juggling teaching jobs and remodeling homes was a problem. Laffont eventually took a position teaching English in Port St. Lucie. When her job ended this year and another black hole threatened, quilting kept it at bay. Incorporating nature, beauty, and discipline, becoming a quilt artist at 55 has another personal connection. “Mum always wanted to be an artist, but her wealthy family disapproved. She started painting at 55.”
KIM GEORGINA LAFFONT
Lives in: St. Lucie County
Occupation: retired professor of English, quilter
Family: husband, Julian; dog, Boo Boo
Education: Advanced degrees in business and English, certified fundraiser, accredited in public relations, Florida Master Naturalist, captain’s license
Hobby: writing (belongs to Use Your Words group in PSL), traveling, “outdoorsy things”
Who inspires me: “Anita Prentice has been so supportive. My mother is now 85, still cranking out oil paintings that have shown in Miami, New York, LA.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’m not outspoken about it, but I’m proud to have achieved 26 years of sobriety from alcoholism. That’s huge in my life.”