The Meadowbrook Quilting Guild held their winter quilting marathon, a twelve-hour event held twice a year at the Meadowbrook Center in Shawsville last Saturday. Gatherings like the Meadowbrook Quilting Marathons are vehicles that carry the art of quilting forward transmitting culture, tradition and lore while sharing skills, encouragement, cookies and a quiet warmth.
“We get together, eat, share camaraderie and sew. Winter and summer. The last Saturday in January and the last Saturday in July,” Terry Borger, one of the guild’s three co-founders said.
“When it’s too cold or too hot to do anything else,” co-founder Tricia Cox said laughing.
It’s only nine in the morning and the dozen Meadowbrook Quilter’s Guild members and visiting quilters who have traveled from Roanoke and throughout Montgomery County are measuring, pinning, cutting and sewing, elbow-deep in works-in-progress like Becky Smith’s Double Wedding Ring design. Across the room, Myrtle Yopp is making a quilt for her daughter’s wedding. Instead of a guest book, friends will sign the quilt.
Fabric surrounds each quilter in pools of creams and oranges, purples and greens. A quilter from Blacksburg, a professional seamstress, unfurls a vast project in Mondrian blocks of denims of different fades shot with glints of yellow.
Quilting is the technique of sandwiching batting or fluff between two layers of cloth for warmth, durability, defense or style. And the art is ancient, sixth-century quilted slippers have been found along the Silk Road and thousand-year-old quilted linen carpets in Mongolian caves. Sturdy and ornamental, stitching the layers into puckers is the quilting.
Working alone and in groups, quilters have elevated this domestic chore, like cooking, gardening and woodworking, to art.
At Meadowbrook, the marathon is a quiet event, warm and homey. Standing in the kitchenette full of simmering Crockpots and desserts to sustain everyone through the day, Borger credits the Meadowbrook Library and its supervisor, Cindy Minnick with support for the guild.
“We bring sewing machines, suitcases and boxes and satchels and rulers and irons and a good attitude. That’s what we bring,” Borger said. “We have a quilting room we use for our monthly meetings here at the Meadowbrook library and put the marathon on with their help.”
All day, sewing machines purred, quilters chatted and chuckled, scissored and measured, surrounded by fabric, some in spilling mounds and some in precise stacks of squares and strips, rulers and templates. It’s a math-minded art. Flowery quilting bags are bristling with triangle gauges and pie-slice Dresden rulers; quilters are hunched over templates slicing fabric with pizza-cutter-like scissors.
There are groups like the Meadowbrook Guild throughout the New River Valley in Roanoke, Blacksburg and Floyd, each with their own personalities.
“Our group is really pretty open to new people and helping people learn how to do things,” Borger said.
And helpful they are. The confession of someone that she keeps her quilts stacked in armoires is met with gasps and useful advice.
“Oh no. You don’t want to keep them folded,” Cox said.
“Yes, really, you want to keep textiles flat. If you have an extra bed lay ‘em out flat and put something like a sheet over it. If you have to, you want to roll it, not fold it. Then, every now and then, turn them. Take it out and roll it the other way,” said others.
Working together is comforting in many ways, and for co-founder Donna Conner who started quilting in 2015 following the death of her husband, quilting meant friendship and support.
“Now I’m back to it. It’s therapy. He’s been gone three years. It helps to be with other folks doing the same thing,” she said.
Throughout the world, quilting is quietly popular. The American Quilting Society, which is the largest quilting membership organization, has more than 70,000 members in all US states and 80 countries.
“The most important thing that happens when people get together is the show and tell,” the society’s Executive Show Director Bonnie Browning said, “That’s the big thing. Even if it’s just a potholder or a wall hanging – everybody wants to see what everybody is doing and encourage each other. It’s a social activity.”
Mostly women, but five percent of membership is men, she says, who are often drawn to the equipment of quilting.
“A long-arm sewing machine is like a big sewing tool. Like an impact wrench,” Browning said.
Like a quilt itself, the quiet, comforting camaraderie of the Meadowbrook Guild as it works on into the evening, provides warmth, durability, defense and style.