Piece Makers Stitch Way to Heirlooms of Tomorrow

Published 5:35 pm Monday, December 29, 2008

When the Marengo County Piece Makers Quilt Guild give a gift, there is definitely no lining up at the return desk after Christmas. Their lovely crafted quilts and wall-hangings are priceless treasures that family and friends can’t wait to get their hands on and display proudly through generations.

Betty Aydelott, Jean Williams, Linda Walters and Hazel Fetzer, four of the Guild members in Linden, agreed to display some of their handiwork recently, explaining their art form and the joy they get from designing and stitching quilts — and from each other.

Each Wednesday, the nine Guild members gather to exchange ideas, piece the fabrics together and create yet another special keepsake. They’ve been doing this for more than 20 years and none of them are close to becoming bored with their craft. “We’re serious quilters,” Betty said. “We’ve been to Paducah, Ky. to the American Quilter’s Society shows, to Williamsburg, Va., and to Lancaster, Penn. We used to have quilts on display at the Christmas on the River event and had good participation.”

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Jean said she joined the local quilters after she retired in 1996 and moved to Linden. “I was going to read all James Mitchner’s novel, learn to quilt and join a garden club,” she said, sitting comfortably in Linda’s kitchen where the four gather with fellow members every Wednesday. Her friends vouched that Jean has achieved all three of her goals. She joined the local guild in 1999 and is now an expert in design, appliqué and the quilting technique. The quilts she had hastily gathered last week were stunning in their beauty.

In addition to learning the art of quilting, Jean said she has made some of the best friends anyone could wish for.

“We have the best time,” said Linda, the youngest member of the group and a second-generation quilter. Her mother, Hazel, has her own spectacular quilts, and got into quilting after sewing for most of her life. Linda said she attended one meeting and “was hooked.” She has since invested in a quilting machine known as a “long arm.” But not all the quilts are sewn by machine; some are the product of tiny stitches done on a lap hoop.

Betty said while she quilts and knits, she doesn’t sew. That doesn’t even matter to the rest of the members. Each talent that a member has is used to obtain the end result, which is of course, a beautiful quilt. One member may be more talented in design, while another might have more skill with her stitches. The talents of every one of them blend and produce a symphony of outstanding results. “We just help each other,” Betty said.

Their latest very special project has been ongoing for almost a year now. On the birthday of each member, the women design a caricature of their own faces and present it to the honoree, who sews the nine faces into a quilt. In the end, all nine guild members will have the pieces to make a quilt featuring each beloved member of the guild. But that doesn’t mean these busy women aren’t simultaneously involved in a myriad of other quilt designs.

Crazy quilts, kitty cat blankets for newborn grandchildren, Alabama themed quilts, prayer quilts, Dresden plates, lovely appliqués, log cabin designs and so much more are represented by these women’s’ handiwork. In fact there are few ideas they haven’t incorporated and sewn into treasured quilts over the years.

“We cry together and we laugh together,” said Jean. “We’re sisters. We’re family.”

When these sisters take trips together, which they have often done, it’s a sure bet they aren’t on a cruise, taking in the scenery. Excitement for them is discovering “fabric heaven” and spending hours shuffling through the range of colors and designs each might want to sew into the next project back home. Some of these women have even traveled to the Smithsonian to examine the quilts on display in the nation’s capital. “Unless you quilt you probably won’t want to travel with this group,” Betty said and laughed, remembering a non-quilting friend who made that mistake a few years ago, but never made it again.

Any old excuse is a good one for creating the next quilt. This guild does it because they truly love what they do. “Nobody could pay you what you have tied up this,” Betty said. “It’s nothing to have $100 tied up in fabric. Quilts can take 500 hours from beginning to end.” One of her quilts took several years to complete, because Betty was determined to find just the right Morea fabric to tie her fancy crazy quilt together.

Their time is well spent, though. Every child, grandchild and other very fortunate people in the community have something they truly value.

“When my son’s house burned,” Betty said, “he told me he saved his quilts.” Truly, these lovely textiles are valuable for their beauty and the skill involved in their creation, but exponentially more so to the family members who realize just what a treasure has been put into their keeping.

Barring some tragedy, these needleworks of art are destined to be passed down to the next generation — and the one after that.