On an overcast morning last autumn, several dozen women from area towns — toting sewing machines and bags of quilting fabric — arrived at Fairholme Colony School and assembled in both upper classrooms for a day of quilting hosted by the three Fairholme members of the St. Claude Quilters Guild, “The Material Girls,” Serena, Andrea and Anna Maendel (www.fairholmequilting.com) with the goal of a late-afternoon show-and-tell. Arriving in groups and pairs, they found a table, placed it near an electrical outlet, arranged their materials and set to work.
“Welcome to the first quilting retreat here in Fairholme!” greeted Anna Maendel. “Unfortunately, I cannot join you, because I have long-arm quilting machine orders at home. When you need a break, you are welcome to walk over and watch it in action,” she said, adding, “I’m completing a traditional Aboriginal Star Quilt for a Winnipeg customer, Robert Menow who learned to quilt from his grandmother.”
“My grandmother inspired me to begin quilting also,” said Sandra Single, a quilter from Holland.
There is a fascinating array of sewing machines from small, shiny-black 1947 Singer models to state-of-the-art Berninas and Pfaffs. In minutes the rooms fill with the sounds of scissors snipping, ironing boards creaking, sewing machines humming and women conversing. Camaraderie and focused work prevail.
Retreat attendees, including several non-guild members, enjoyed morning snacks, a noon lunch of traditional Hutterite cabbage borscht with Knödel, and a turkey-cutlet supper.
Seeing the variety of projects, it’s clear that quilting has moved beyond the traditional community or church women’s group gathered in one woman’s home for a day to complete her daughter’s trousseau. Why do they quilt?
“Because it’s relaxing and so enjoyable to create each one!” said quilter Janice de Rocquigny. “And when I finish one, it’s just as much pleasure to give it to someone — a unique gift made special by my personal touch.”
Another woman adds, “I’m not very ambitious today. With no time to prepare a major project, I’m making quilted covers for purse-size tissue packets. I’ve made so many and each one is gratefully accepted.”
Spread out beside one sewing machine, pencil box covers feature kaleidoscopic designs. “This way, I can include each grandchild’s favourite shapes and colours,” the quilter said.
Pat Metcalfe, with her trio of single bed quilts with rows of appliquéd dinosaurs for her grandsons said, “It’s just a whole lot of fun!”
Kathy Webster is making a “Memory Quilt,” that features fabric only from familiar pieces of clothing. She is using her husband’s overalls. A heavy equipment operator, Roy Webster was still working at 92 and lived to be almost 96. “It’s therapy,” she says simply. “I miss him terribly.”
At the end of the day the show-and-tell session begins, to which the Fairholme women and girls have been invited to attend — all being seamstresses and some also quilt.
A community of quilters, these women have discovered that “Creativity is letting yourself make mistakes and art is knowing which ones to keep.”
The women are at their most enthusiastic, however, when they describe group work on various volunteer projects, including charity quilts for fundraisers, special sessions to supply local seniors’ homes and annual blitzes for Winnipeg’s Siloam Mission. “They never have enough,” Sandra Single said.
Single also said, “Autistic children find a weighted quilt soothing; therapeutic. It can be daunting when you’re asked for a specific number of quilts; you worry about having enough of the right fabric, but you don’t want to disappoint people, so you work with what you have.”
Quilters truly are generous, resourceful donors, displaying the spirit of our pioneers and the Prairies.
Dora Maendel writes from the Portage la Prairie, Manitoba area.