Sousa learned how to sew from her grandmother while growing up in Cleveland.
“My grandmother used to keep me when I was young, too young to be in school, so this was back in the ’60s. She used to quilt,” Sousa said. “They didn’t do anything by sewing machine. They did it all by hand.”
As a young girl, Sousa would watch her grandmother as she worked on quilts. One day the older women decided to demonstrate to young Cynthia how to do it herself. She was 5 years old.
“That’s how I got started,” Sousa said.
Her first quilt was designed and sized for a doll. That first quilt wasn’t the best experience. Sousa said she found the process too time-consuming.
Back then, templates for quilt pieces were made of cardboard.
“I did not like sewing because you had to hold the cardboard and then you had to try to cut around it, whatever the shape was. Then after that, everything was sewn by hand, which is a quarter inch seam allowance,” Sousa said.
Sousa said it was hard to determine how far in on the fabric to sew since the quarter inch area was not marked. She wound up taking a lot of her first stitches out and having to redo them.
“She [her grandmother] worked with me and she was patient and we got it done,” Sousa said.
It was not until high school that Sousa developed a real interest in sewing.
Her renewed interest came when she learned to use a sewing machine and make her own clothes in a home economics course at Bradley Central High School.
Later, Sousa discovered she could make quilts with the sewing machine, saving time over the hand needle-and-thread method.
“Everything was getting modernized now. Now, you’ve got my interest,” Sousa said.
Her interest in quilting came as a way of showing that her grandmother had made an impact on her.
“My dad got sick and it was his mom who showed me. I wanted him to know that she did leave something behind with me, and I made him a quilt before he passed on,” Sousa said.
Her favorite quilt pattern is called card trick. The style uses four interconnected diamonds.
“With the right colors, they just pop,” Sousa said.
She makes most of her quilts for others and gives them as gifts.
Sousa has also continued her family heritage in other ways. She joined the U.S. Air Force to continue her families’ tradition of military service.
“My father was in the Army. My grandfather was in the Army,” Sousa said.
She said she chose the Air Force because it was “less physical.”
“I am not an outdoors girl. … The Air Force just fit me to a T,” Sousa said.
She served for six years as a freight traffic specialist at a base in Illinois.
Recently, after years of working in management, Sousa decided she had the business knowledge to start her own shop.
“I have dreams — I have my own little bucket list, things that I want to do,” Sousa said.
Owning a fabric shop was at the top of the list. She said she wanted to give Cleveland crafters a local option so they did not have to go to Chattanooga.
When Sousa first started dreaming about opening a fabric shop in Cleveland there were several already in business. Now, there are only a few.
“This was the time for me to do this,” Sousa said.
While she felt prepared, she said she always has more to learn when she starts a new job.
“I’m always pushing myself,” Sousa said.
She also sees opening the shop Time to Sew as a way to continue tradition.
“I have to somehow keep the tradition of quilting going,” Sousa said. “If my grandmother could see me now, if my dad could see me now, they would just be blown away.”
She is trying to encourage her nieces, who have almost been like children to her, to get interested in quilting.
“It’s almost a lost art,” Sousa said.
She said she would like to see more “younger people involved so they can keep this going.” She said technology keeps advancing to make fabric projects less time consuming and more fun. She encourages people just starting out to begin with small projects such as a wall hangings.