by Tricia Lynn Strader
After the hype of the holidays, during the long chilly days of winter, many of us might take a restful pause much like the hibernating bears. But the long days of winter are not a restful time for the members of the Delectable Mountains Quilters guild in Berkeley Springs. They work hard at creating quilts for those in need, and offer an array of contemporary and traditional quilts for their annual spring gallery show and auction.
In May, much of the town of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., becomes a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors during the Yard Square Quilt Auction. At least 40 guild members make the wall hangings that adorn the shop windows over six weeks. The public can bid on their favorite, and they will find out on Memorial Day weekend who wins what.
This year’s theme, “Home is Where the Heart Is,” challenges members to takes that theme and either make a traditionally patterned piece, or changes it up to create an unusual piece of art.
Quilts have become a recognized art form over the last 30 years or so, beginning with the country’s Bicentennial in 1976; but they’ve been a staple of many households for hundreds of years. The layered covering not only keeps off winter’s chill, but in many cases tells the story of a family—its members and their journeys through life with its patterns like the log cabin, or the fabric which may be from a baby’s blanket or loved one’s clothing.
Usually the wives and mothers made quilts of leftover scraps after making clothes, because early Americans and pioneers had to make due with every bit of fabric they had. Patterns developed that are unique to the U.S. At the gallery show, visitors or buyers will find any size they can imagine in any pattern or color of the rainbow.
They might be two-dimensional as one would expect; or they might have three-dimensional objects on them like appliqués, buttons, or other found objects. A quilt might be hand-stitched or machine quilted. There’s a true variety. Some are strictly on display; others are for sale.
These quilters love sewing, and try to make things for those in need. Every year, the guild picks a local charity to receive the proceeds from the Yard Square auction. This winter, the guild will decide on one recipient from seven organizations considered. The first recipient in 2006 was the Morgan Arts Council. Others have included the Humane Society, local library, and Starting Points Family Resource Center. They’ve made lap quilts for hospital patients or residents at nursing homes, and provide quilts that the sheriff’s deputies carry in their cars to help out folks affected by fires.
During the Morgan County Fair in July, the Delectable Mountains Quilters take over entire rooms of one of the Berkeley Springs High School buildings. They raffle one quilt, and work on the next year’s raffle quilt while visitors watch and ask questions.
They take trips to quilt shows or fabric shops, and have a Sew and Tell at some meetings to show off what they might be working on at home.
Some of these quilt artisans have been at it for 30 years or more. In fact, the Delectable Mountains folks began in 1981 with a group of ladies who had an interest in quilting. On November 9, 1981, Liz Burton called several people together for an organizational meeting at Joanne Moulden’s home. During the meeting, it was decided to form a chapter called Delectable Mountains Quilters. On November 28, 1981, the Executive Committee of the National Quilter’s Association presented their official charter to the guild. Seventy current members come from West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Beginning quilters are encouraged to attend meetings.
Members come from all skill levels. Current guild president Karen Hayes says they love what they do and want to pass it on. “We love to get together, and talk and sew. We have those just starting, professionals and everything in between. We like to encourage, teach, learn and pass it on.”
Instructors give tips or conduct classes in different projects. This winter, the ladies are making a quilted pin to wear, which is a small quilt block. Hayes says it’s intricate work because the pin is only a two-inch block.
They also do Block of the Month projects. To observe the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, they are making blocks from an Underground Railroad quilt. Each block has some kind of symbolism, and incorporates patterns like the log cabin, a flying goose or star. These types of quilts would traditionally hang on the washing line, and those looking to follow the Underground Railroad saw them as a roadmap. The quilts told a story in looking at each pattern: a wagon wheel would mean leaving; a ship would tell them to sail across the Great Lakes to Wisconsin or Minnesota once they made it to Chicago. A star would mean to follow the North Star. At the end of the year, these modern-day quilters will have 12 blocks to make into a quilt.
The Round Robin is a small group project whereby someone starts a quilt, and passes it on. Each member makes a portion of the quilt, and by the end of the allotted time period, they get a quilt back in which everyone had a hand in making.
The “Home is Where the Heart Is” annual Delectable Mountains Quilt Show and Sale will feature more than 100 pieces of quilt art from more than 50 of the guild members. It begins April 11 at the Ice House Gallery in Berkeley Springs and continues through May 26. The Yard Square Quilt Auction winners will be announced on Sunday, May 25.
Anyone wishing to learn more can attend a meeting from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month, or 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. Meetings are held at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Route 522 just south of Berkeley Springs. Or log onto www.delectablemountainsquiltguild.com.