As dozens of quilts of blue and white blocks, pastel pinks and polka-dotted baby blues, and deep navies and yellows disguise the Moorefield Elementary School gym walls for a quilt show, one group of women in Moorefield, W.Va., is carrying on a forgotten tradition.
The Highland Stars Quilters Guild ladies bring dozens of quilts they have made to the Hardy County Heritage Weekend quilt show late in September every year, a showcase of their hard work. But for this group, it’s more than just about creating bed coverings.
The group of about 20 women ages 55 to 80 embraces a craft that makes something practical, but relationships are formed in the meantime. The members practice their craft to exercise their creativity, converse with their friends, all while continuing to document each family’s heritage. Quilting has long had a tradition of bringing women close together in quilting circles and engaging them in conversation, but it is also an artistic outlet.
“When quilting first started, it was essential for a lot of people because they needed quilts to keep them warm,” said Carolyn Burge, one member of the Highland Stars Quilters Guild. “But now, it’s more decorative … it’s not so much a necessity anymore.”
In the times during the Civil War, wealthier women quilted with elaborate fabrics and simply having the time to quilt was a status symbol, Burge said. The poorer women, however, made quilts with anything they had available: old clothes, feed sacks or portions of older quilts.
“It’s important to keep this tradition alive to remember the people who came here and the work they did,” said Maralyn Campbell, member of the Highland Stars Quilters Guild. “We can’t forget the roots of the people who founded the state. People couldn’t just go to the store and buy a quilt, they had to go through this process to keep their families warm. I like keeping the idea of the history alive.”
Burge, Campbell and the other members of The Highland Stars Quilters Guild meet every other Wednesday to discuss business, as well as enjoy workshops. But a major aspect of being part of this club is talking about current quilting projects and current events, as well as soliciting support from one another.
Vivan Estep, president of the Highland Stars Quilters Guild joined the group to nurture her love of quilting after a friend invited her to go.
“I was always interested in quilting because my grandma quilted. I was too dumb to ask to learn from her at the time, but I got into it afterward,” Estep said. “I began to learn a lot and really enjoyed it – it became more than a hobby. Now, it’s not only about the quilting, but also the socializing.”
Burge echoes Estep’s sentiment, in that she too was interested in the quilting guild for the social aspects. Close relationships are the result of hours spent talking and stitching together.
“A lot of the quilt guild is the socialization and being with the other ladies. We have definitely developed a bond,” Burge said. “It’s a lot of just really nice people. We’ve gone through deaths, births, and different things with members. Everyone supports everyone else. It’s a good thing.”
The Hardy County Heritage Weekend is one of the events that allow the ladies to gather and display their craft. Held the last week of September, this year’s quilt show showcased dozens of these art forms.
Quilts are typically categorized by two pieces of fabric, with a piece of padding between the layers, and numerous stitches that bind the pieces together.
“First you have a pattern in mind, then you have to work on choosing fabric to make the quilt – that’s always the most fun part of any quilter,” Burge said. “We love our fabric.”
“After your choose your fabric, you have to follow the pattern you’re going to do, cut the fabric out, and then piece it together. Once your top piece is done, then you have to make a sandwich,” she said.
“You have to have a back and a middle, which is some kind of batting. That’s what makes a quilt – the three layers: top, middle, and backing. That’s the definition of a quilt.”
Thousands of tiny stitches pull all three layers of the fabric together with recognizable patterns, such as the “Sunbonnet Sue,” the Dresden Plate, the bear’s paw, the pinwheel, the double wedding ring, the Irish chain, the lone star, and flying geese. While some of these quilts, such as the double wedding ring, are given on special occasions, others are used to document a family’s history and tell a story.
The log cabin pattern is more than 200 years old and is one of the most common and recognizable patterns, with its squares of fabric-strip logs, which circle around a central square. It speaks to home and hearth, and it tends to remain synonymous with family values. Burge chose a log cabin pattern as her first quilt so she could display it in her home. Campbell has made baby blankets, as well as given quilts for Christmas gifts.
“I’ve given many away. A lot of mine end up going away to some of my children,” Campbell said. “They like the quilts, but they don’t have time to quilt quite yet.
Campbell made one quilt for her young son that featured his name, his birthday and his astrological sign as a way to personalize her hobby and make it a part of her family.
Many quilters put so much time into each quilt that it’s difficult to auction them away commercially.
“My last quilt … took me three and a half years to finish, because I didn’t keep at it constantly,” Burge said. “I take my time. I don’t make them to sell because it takes so much time and so much love that goes into your quilt, that I can’t think about selling them.”
“If someone asked me, ‘what would you want for it?’ I wouldn’t have any idea because they couldn’t pay me enough for what I’ve put into it,” she said. “Any time someone buys a quilt, if they think it’s expensive, they probably haven’t quilted.”
As quilting continues as part of a favored pastime in small communities, like Moorefield, the women in the quilting guild continue their hobby in the hopes that others will appreciate their work and want to be part of that artistic tradition that offers them such friendship and support.
“It’s an old art form that is making a comeback in recent years. It’s a hobby, nowadays,” Burge said. “I think it’s a good thing. You can pass down a quilt from generation to generation, and they all have a story.”
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