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Quilting together a community of crafters

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By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff


Hanging out with the Roaring Fork Quilt Guild feels something like wrapping yourself in one of their creations.

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Each of the roughly two dozen members brings a different character and experience that somehow stitches together into a warm, welcoming whole. The group usually gathers at the Carbondale Branch Library, but more intimate gatherings and special retreats are all part of the program. Food is an essential element, and the group has even assembled their own book of each other’s signature recipes, like Susan Dodington’s cherry pie. Many of the women (men are welcome but something of a rarity) are friends away from the sewing machines, as well.

“I think my life is very blessed to have these women in it,” said Renee Morrison. “We came from different places and economic backgrounds, but we have something we’re all interested in.”

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That’s particularly helpful for Fiona Heggie as a part time resident.

“I regard them as my family in the valley,” she said.

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You’ll hear similar sentiments from long standing members like Lynn Kerr, who found out about the local quilting scene from a chance encounter at a fabric shop back before “The Needle and I” and “Quilters of the Rockies” merged into a single guild. The shop is now gone, but the camaraderie it helped build isn’t fraying — and most of the ladies have enough fabric stashed away to survive on for years.

It’s a spirit that the craft seems to sew all over the country, according to relative newcomer Becka Sheehan.

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“You can go different places and walk in and not know anybody and have something to talk about,” she said.

A quick primer for the uninitiated: quilting comprises a broad array of techniques for pairing a pieced top with some sor

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t of batting for heft and a back to hold it all together.

“We take perfectly good fabric, cut it up into small pieces and sew it all back together again,” noted Heggie.

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It makes for beautiful, hangable works of art, but it’s also practical. Heggie sees it as a “uniquely American” pursuit borne of a time when scarcity drove women to make something warm out of whatever worn fragments of fabric they might have on hand. Although many textiles are now made overseas and few high schoolers have even heard of home economics, the quilters see it as far from an out-of-date skill.

“I kinda see the culture going back to the basics,” observed Kelly Wood.

The process is streamedlined somewhat by advances in technology, with most of the piecing and some of the quilting now aided by machines. But it’s affixed to a sturdy backing of tradition.

“There’s a lot of emotion and memory tied up in quilts,” Donna Dayton said.

And hers, at least, are meant to be used.

“You need to wear it out,” she said. “I’ll make you another one.”

Many of their individual works are given as gifts, and even some of their collaborations have a charitable intent. On Dec. 15, they’ll raffle off a quilt and donate the proceeds — at least $2,000 — to Roaring Fork Brain Train. It’s the third such project, which they alternate annually with a quilt show every other Strawberry Days.

In between, they bring in guest instructors and try to learn from each other, too.

“Creativity spurs creativity,” Kerr said. “We try to set challenges and work outside of the box.”

That shouldn’t deter beginners, however. The group is far more supportive than competitive, and the process of creation is described as a kind of therapy.

“It’s very relaxing,” said Heggie.

Added Dodington, “It’s such a nice accomplishment when it’s finished.”

For more information, contact roaringforkquiltguild@yahoo.com.  For a last minute ticket, call (805) 570-7171.

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