Wednesday, May 30, 2007

'Every quilt has a story to tell'

By Alison Bell
Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS -- For Debbie Toth, there's no better feeling than stitching together hundreds of small pieces of fabric to create a piece of artwork often associated with sleeping.

Toth is a quilter, and just like the other approximately 50 members of Rainbow Country Quilters, she takes advantage of every opportunity to display her work.

"I made my first quilt about 10 years ago and there's no going back," she said, while sifting through about 175 quilts on display at the group's second-ever show Friday. "It's a creative outlet."

The show was presented at Drummond Hill Presbyterian Church. Quilts were draped over every bench in the parish, and hung on the walls and in front of the stained glass windows. There were hand-stitched quilts, art quilts, foundation quilts and even a stained glass quilt, which has a design that is assembled to look like a stained glass window.

"Even if you use a sewing machine, there is so much work that goes into every quilt, piecing together the pattern," said Toth. "When you first look at a set of instructions and it says to cut out 200, half-inch squares, it can be intimidating. But you just do a little bit at a time."

Toth said quilters often have what they call "UFOs" -- unfinished objects.

"I have a piece at home right now that I'm still working on. I've finished the top, but I haven't gotten around to quilting it together," she said.

When a quilt is finished, it must be labeled. On the back of each quilt is a piece of material containing the name of the quilter, the quilt's size, year it was made and colour.

"Quilts are personal and individual. Every quilt has a story to tell," said Toth.

Toth has a room in her Niagara Falls home dedicated to quilting, but, she said, she can use another one. Whenever she has the opportunity, she shops for new fabric that may come in handy one day.

"We travel around the region together, looking for new pieces," she said. "We shop hop."

The Rainbow Country Quilters meet at Drummond Hill Presbyterian Church, 6136 Lundy's Lane.

Friday, May 25, 2007

KINGSTON — When Linda Heminway started the My Brother's Keepers quilt group in 1999, all her materials fit in one oversized tote bag.

"Now," she said, "we have a walk-in closet the church gives us to store stuff. Fabric mates and reproduces."

Heminway and her group will tie off their 300th quilt this month. The group, which makes Ugly Quilts for homeless people, has expanded from four volunteers to about 15 regular members, and from a tote bag to a closet stuffed with fabric. But their original purpose remains the same: they have a heart for the homeless.

A Pennsylvania woman named Flo Wheateley made the first Ugly Quilt in the early 1990s. She had been taking her son into New York City for chemotherapy treatments, and one day a homeless man helped her son to walk. "It haunted her, and she needed to do something for the homeless," Heminway said. Wheateley started the Ugly Quilt movement, making scrap quilts that could also be used as sleeping bags, and delivering them to the homeless.

Heminway, a woman of strong faith, believes that God led her to the Ugly Quilts. She was already a quilter when she walked into a pharmacy, bought a copy of "Family Circle" ("a magazine I never pick up"), and saw an article on Wheateley. She made Ugly Quilts on her own.

When she moved to New Hampshire, she sought out the First Congregational Church in Kingston, and the first sermon she heard challenged her to start an Ugly Quilt group in the area.

While the group meets in the First Congregational Church and receives a small stipend from the church, it is non-denominational, according to Heminway. But eight years later, the quilts are still going out.

The quilts are made of scrap fabrics and machine-quilted. A quilt is like a "sandwich," Heminway said, with the pieced top, a layer of batting, and an underside. The Ugly Quilts have a strip of Velcro around the edges, so they can be closed and used as a sleeping bag.

The bags are rolled and placed in used pillowcases. She and her quilters hunt out used neckties at yard sales, and these are used to sling the bag over one's shoulder like a backpack. A homeless person can use the pillowcase to hold their belongings, and the whole thing packs easily, she said, demonstrating how it fits over one's shoulders.

What goes into a quilt top is the quilter's choice. Heminway showed off one top that featured shiny red brocade next to denim, another one with a panel, "Butterflies of America," and another one made of old cotton sweaters. If an old shirt still has a pocket, the quilters leave it on, she said — it's a good place for the recipient to tuck small items.

"We are the ultimate recyclers," Heminway added with a grin.

The group expanded its efforts to children with cancer. They make smaller quilts, a little prettier, without the batting in between. They sew a fleece batting instead, and have made 66 so far. Member Della Boswell showed off a children's quilt she made, with autumn leaves in each square.

The members are a mixture of young, middle-aged and older women. Some people can't sew, but they cut fabric or deliver quilts to homeless shelters. Some people sew but can't get to meetings, so they make quilt tops at home for the members to tie. Some people are "snowbirds," and one woman richochets between three homes. "Think of all the thimbles you'd need," a member cracked.

Heminway doesn't know who the recipients are, and she doesn't care. The work is what matters, according to her. When longtime member Debbie Barber moves to Arizona this summer, she'll take Quilt No. 300 with her and start a group there.

Heminway still has the tote bag from her first meetings, and the Family Circle that sparked the idea. And though the group is not sponsored by a religious organization, she'll continue to sew a Bible verse into each Ugly Quilt. The verse, from Job 11:18, reads, "You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you, and take your rest in safety." The group is not seeking fabric donations at this time, but is in need of members, donations of quilt batting and donations of Velcro.

From left, Linda Heminway, Debbie Barber and Della Boswell show off the 300th quilt their group, My Brother's Keepers, has made for the homeless. The group has also made 66 quilts for children undergoing chemotherapy since it organized in 1999.Kathleen D. Bailey photo / SMG

For more information or to donate, call Heminway at 382-2329 or

Thursday, May 24, 2007

'Quilt Lady's' special gifts to Indy 500 winners endure

Her name is Jeanetta Holder, but she's simply known as "The Quilt Lady" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For more than 30 years, Avon's Jeanetta Holder has fashioned a special quilt for the Indy 500 winner. the quilt behind here will be raffled off for charity. - Richard D. Walton / For The Star
For more than 30 years she has fashioned a special quilt for the Indy 500 winner, and this year is no different. The 74-year-old Holder -- she turns 75 on Wednesday -- has prepared a quilt bearing the signatures of all but one of the 500 champions. The missing year: 1920.
"It was a Gaston Chevrolet," Holder said. "I know where his autograph is at, but I haven't been able to get to that state to pick it up."
She has presented the quilts to each of the winners starting with Johnny Rutherford in 1976.
"Al Unser (Sr.) said he'd (still) have his quilt when the money's gone," she recalls. Fellow four-time winner Rick Mears joked that he built on a room to his house to house all his quilts. And A.J. Foyt denied a rumor Holder heard that he had sold his quilt. "Somebody's trying to stir up trouble," he told her.
Holder, who lives in Avon, once made a red, white and blue quilt for Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, hero of the Persian Gulf War. In the rush to get the job done before the general's visit to Indianapolis, she included only 12 of Old Glory's 13 stripes.
"I told him that when he went back and finished the war, I'd finish his quilt."
Holder also does quilts for winners of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
Holder is fashioning a quilt to be raffled off in February to support a scholarship fund in the name of Rich Vogler, a former Indy 500 driver killed in a 1990 Sprint car race at Salem Speedway in Southern Indiana.
Holder was once neighbors with Vogler.
"He used to run up behind me in his car and start blowing his horn, letting on like he's going to hit me. He'd go on by me and just laugh," she said.
Eleanor Vogler, the late race driver's mother, said Holder has raised thousands of dollars for scholarships given to people with connections to racing.
"She buys all the material. She works diligently on it," Vogler said. "She's really a very good-hearted person.
Not only that, Holder, who did some racing long ago -- "I've been upside down in a couple of cars," she says -- knows how to market her wares.
During May, she sits in the lobby of the Brickyard Resort & Inn weaving her quilting magic. Beside her are the scholarship raffle tickets, which sell for $2 each.
"People get nosey and they come over to see what I'm doing," she says. "And then I sell them a chance on it."

Stitching together the story of America

CEDAR CITY - The fifth-grade students at Fiddlers Canyon Elementary School showed off their knowledge of American history Wednesday, showcasing their quilt-making projects.

Out of the three fifth-grade classes, 66 quilts were completed, said Janette Stubbs, one of the fifth-grade teachers in charge of the "American history enrichment project."

After completing each of the six units for the history part of class throughout the school year, the students were able to choose their own fabric and design six individual quilt squares based on important events in American history, including slavery, the Civil War and the American Revolution, Stubbs said.

Fifth-grade student Jaycee Slack said she enjoyed making the quilts and learning about history for the project.

"It was fun, but it took a while," she said. "I liked learning about how many people fought during the Civil War."

Stubbs said organizing the project was a combined effort between her and the two other fifth-grade teachers: Susan Griffiths and Paulette Wiseman.

The teachers decided to have the students make American history lap quilts for their project because one lesson students learned during the unit on slavery is how the slaves made their own "freedom quilts," Griffiths said.

"We wanted them to be a part of the history of quilt making," she said.

Each student tied his and her own quilt but had help from some of the parents in sewing the squares together, Stubbs said.

Collette Barclay, a fifth-grade student, said she enjoys history and liked learning about each of the different historical events by making her own designs for the quilt.

"I just drew about the different events and used what looked good," she said.

Fifth-grader Anna Wasden said she was interested in many of the historical events and enjoyed learning about them through making quilts because she enjoys sewing.

"I liked learning about the Lewis and Clark Expedition," she said.

Students were not only able to learn about history through the project, it was also a good learning experience for the students to design their own quilts, Stubbs said.

"Their personalities definitely come out in this project," she said. "It is easy for me to look at each quilt and know who made it because it reflects their personalities."

Because the project went well for its first year, the teachers said they plan to continue having students participate in future years.

"The biggest thing is that this is a memory they can hold onto from their fifth-grade year," Stubbs said. "They can look back and reflect on the concepts they learned."

Ohio woman among premier art quilters in U.S.

BALTIMORE, Ohio (AP) - With deadlines looming, artist Nancy Crow worked like a smooth, efficient machine of creativity as she hurried to finish up a quilt.

She climbed and descended a stepladder at her studio in rural Fairfield County, pinning and re-pinning the strips of intensely colored cotton cloth, hanging on a wall, that were becoming the quilt Construction 84.

She had a conversation as she stitched pieces of fabric on her favorite machine, a Bernina 930 - what she calls the Rolls-Royce of sewing machines.

"I work intuitively on composition," she said over the whir of the device.

"I'm exploring. When I make a mistake, I have to rip it back out again."

Crow - among the nation's premier creators of art quilts, a genre growing in esteem and popularity - was preparing for a fall solo exhibition in a Philadelphia gallery.

And she had more on her plate.

She was helping to teach one-week workshops in the nearby Crow Timber Frame Barn, an Ohio mecca for many people who make art quilts.

In August, she'll lead a tour of textile art in Estonia and Scandinavia. In September, she'll conduct workshops in Idaho and Switzerland.

The whirlwind helps keep her at the forefront of the art-quilt movement, which writer Jean Ray Laury differentiates from much of traditional quilt-making as "personal expression - not a mimic of the ideas or designs or color preferences set down by someone else."

Vivid colors and bold, abstract images have propelled Crow and her work to the elite circles in the United States and worldwide.

"To me, she is the apex. There is no one higher," said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Snyderman-Works Gallery in Philadelphia, where the Crow exhibit will open Oct. 6.

Crow never intended to make fabric her medium.

In the late 1960s, she was working on a master's degree in fine arts at Ohio State University.

"I was going to be a potter," the 63-year-old said, "but I became allergic to clay dust, and I couldn't hack it anymore."

She tried weaving and started to see the potential of quilting.

"I'm a very direct person: I like to get from A to B pretty fast," Crow said. "Quilt making served my personality. When you make a mistake, you can see it and fix it."

She embraced the medium, founding or helping to found several organizations: the Art Quilt Network, a group of artists; Quilt National, a leading biennial exhibition organized at the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens; and the Quilt Surface Design Symposium, led each June in Columbus by an international faculty.

"There are not many people who I would say have altered my course of life, but she would be one of those," said noted quilt artist Eleanor A. McCain of Shalimar, Fla.

McCain, who took a class from Crow 15 years ago, learned discipline and creativity, she said.

"She gave me a tremendous sense of the possibility, the potential that was there. So, along with a set of boundaries, she also set me free."

Quilts by Crow are found at the Museum of Arts & Design and Museum of American Folk Art, both in New York, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington - where, in 1995, the creator had its first solo exhibition of art quilts.

The hundreds of quilts she has produced have come from her studio and teaching center, a large wooden barn renovated in the late 1990s by her husband, John Stitzlein, and their sons, Nathaniel and Matthew.

Prices of her quilts range from $8,000 to $75,000.

"If she had been painting for the last 50 years, there would be three more zeros at the end of her prices," said Hoffman, the dealer. "People wouldn't question it, without a doubt."

"I don't care if my work sells, and that frees me" creatively, Crow said.

"I taught myself to think in terms of line and shape. The fabric is my paint."

Her relationship with her medium is intense: "I love fabric. I looove fabric.

"It's so innate. When I come over here (to her studio), I feel like I'm a completed human being."

Jean Robertson, an art historian at the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, has known Crow for more than 25 years.

They collaborated on two books about her quilts.

Robertson, a curator at the Columbus Museum of Art in the mid-1980s, featured Crow in an exhibit at the Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth, which Robertson founded with her husband.

"She is drawn to patterns and repetition," Robertson said. "Of course, quilting is built on variations on a theme. When she gets an idea, she works it through series and permutations."

Crow begins with concepts and images - some noted in sketchbooks and some traced in her mind.

She then pieces a quilt, combining shapes and colors, and resolving problems of composition.

"That's what makes a good composition - how good your eye is," she said.

Construction 84 is based on observations of a railroad crossbuck, with the quilt showing hints of the "X."

"In this composition," she said, "it's all about breaking the X."

For the 90-inch-square piece, Crow - who dyes her cloth - chose 80 colors of fabric at the start.

"She'll pick a color and make every variation," Robertson said. "Her color effects are subtle and rich. She has colors that people who buy commercial fabrics couldn't duplicate."

Crow cuts pieces of fabric freehand with a small, rotary cutting tool that she wields with the precision of an artist using a pencil.

She marks specific sewing instructions and ships the pieces to her associate, Marla Hattabaugh of Scottsdale, Ariz. - who takes a month to hand-stitch a quilt.

Crow rises each morning at 5 to get to work.

What drives her?

"I want my work to be the best it can be before I die," she said. "I want to know inside my heart that I've given it my best shot."

A year from now, she will be featured in a solo exhibition at the University of Nebraska. Also in 2008, her quilts will be shown at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown.

Her beloved Bernina 930 certainly won't be turning rusty.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Passion for patchwork

By Roszan Holmen

If you think quilting ladies are stuffy, quiet and dull, think again.

On May 17, the Heart and Hands guild held a quilt showcase that packed the Omniplex curling room. Almost 200 local and visiting guild members cheered, laughed, clapped and gave a standing ovation for guest speaker Gloria Loughman, all the way from Australia.

Loughman, who’s won several international quilting awards, spends her time travelling the world, teaching workshops and giving talks about her work. Suspended along one side of the room, her quilts featured exotic landscapes, intricate stitching and vibrantly painted fabrics.

Before getting down to business, Loughman entertained the crowd with survival stories from her travels: being escorted off an American army base, rescued from floods by handsome firefighters and leaving class in an ambulance after passing out. Despite the disasters that seem to follow her around, she laughs that she’s always been invited back to teach. Who would have guessed that quilting could be so adventuresome?

The Heart and Hands quilting guild meets once a month and has 55 members. President Naomi Pearson says it’s “to learn about quilting, but it’s more about friendship.”

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Memories sewn into quilt


The nation's first Alzheimer's-related quilt made its Cincinnati debut Saturday at a conference for caregivers and health professionals downtown at the Westin hotel.

Sponsored by the 5-year-old Manhattan-based Alzheimer's Foundation of America, both the conference and the Quilt to Remember are intended to shine a light on the patients and their caregivers, said Eric J. Hall, the group's founder and CEO.

"Our population can't speak for itself, and the caregivers really can't, either, because they're busy 24/7. These quilt panels are to be their voices - the voices that bring the issue to America," Hall said.

Like the AIDS quilt that inspired it, the Quilt to Remember is made of individual panels constructed with items that were dear to the patient. There are butterflies, aprons, photos, hair ornaments and World War II memorabilia, as well as dozens of handprints lovingly traced. Many of the panels carry gut-wrenching handwritten messages stitched onto the back.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, including nearly one in two people aged 85 and older, according to the foundation. In Ohio, an estimated 200,000 people have Alzheimer's disease - a number the foundation predicts will grow to 250,000 by 2025.

The Alzheimer's quilt debuted in New York's Central Park in November 2006. Cincinnati was the first stop in 2007.

Eighteen panels were displayed here, previewing the 100 that will be shown in Chicago next weekend, when the quilt opens a five-city tour.

An additional 230 panels are committed and still in the works. They will be added as the tour progresses. Hall expects the number of panels to continue growing as the quilt gains exposure.

Panels are 4 feet by 4 feet if created by individuals, family or friends. Panels made by organizations such as assisted-living facilities and church groups can be 8 feet by 8 feet

"What we're finding, and what I guess shouldn't surprise me, is that making the panels is actually therapeutic for the family," Hall said. "It gives them a chance to re-live the good and loving times.

"I remember the day the first panel came in to our office. The whole staff gathered around as we unrolled it. It was all wrapped in tissue paper and so carefully packed that I thought, 'If they put that kind of love into packing it, what must have gone into making it?'

"We all got a little bit teary that day."