Gravett, Amron. “The Modern Quilting Bee” MaryJanesFarm, August-September 2014, 76-77.
In the days of yesteryear, women often gathered for “quilting bees,” social events that allowed groups of women to work together on one quilt while catching up on the latest neighborhood news. When Amron Gravett — a longtime MaryJanesFarm fan who wrote a Keeping in Touch story for our “April Showers” April/May 2014 issue — told us she’d love to pen an article about a modern-day collaborative quilt project by her writers’ group, we replied with a resounding “Yes!” Amron is an indexer, librarian, and writer and runs Wild Clover Book Services. Her work can be found at AmronGravett.com.
Women Writing the West is a group of writers whose members set their work in the West, founded on the traditions of great women writers such as Mary Austin, Willa Cather, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane. This October, the nonprofit group will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a gathering in Golden, Colorado, a location known for its small-town, friendly, western charm.
It is in a spirit of tradition and storytelling that a group of 16 quilters from the organization chose to do a collaborative quilting project to raffle off at the conference. Sherry Johns, writer, longtime quilter, and project coordinator says, “I want this quilt to be something that represents the women who write about the West, to celebrate 20 years of hard work by the founding members and all those who belong to this organization. Quilts are a celebration of life and this one will become an heirloom for one lucky conference attendee.”
Back in February, Sherry sent 10-inch squares of focus fabric to each quilter with detailed instructions on the theme (women, writing, West), colors (Southwest landscape hues), and method (pieced or appliquéd), to produce 20 finished quilt squares that will be stitched into a queen-size quilt. Barbara Dan, writer and quilter, fondly describes the group as the “merry band of quilters.”
But how does quilting tie into women writing stories about the West? Creative women have always used quilts to inspire and tell stories and have even used stories to inspire quilts. Writer Nancy Oswald says, “Quilting is a way to tell a story visually. It’s an art, as is storytelling. Both quilting and storytelling allow for creative expression and enrich everyday life.”
Stories and quilting have always gone hand in hand. The Western historical record has countless examples of the quilt’s significance to our culture and lives. There’s a unique and important cultural history of quilts and quilt-making both in the U.S. and all over the world, which quilt historians today document and share through books, oral histories, and of course, storytelling.
Today, you’ll find that there are quilters skilled in color and technique, those skilled in design and pattern, those new to the art form, and those who have made numerous quilts in their lifetimes. There is no denying that the fabric and quilting arts are alive and well.
Scenes of typical quilting projects in the past usually involve a group of women sitting around a table with a large quilt in their busy hands, pulling, piecing, sewing, and chatting away. The social element of quilt-making is obvious. The nature of quilting is a collaboration that brings people and fabric together.
Despite the vast geographical distance among quilters in the collaborative quilt project, it was surprising to see how many similarities there were in the individual quilt squares. But perhaps, it’s not so surprising when we understand that our frame of reference, our landscapes, and our stories have the common themes that the quilt assignment hoped to illustrate. It’s not the location of the writers’ and quilters’ homes that is their commonality, but the spirit of the West celebrated through writing, fellowship, and support that brings our colors together.
Collaborative quilt projects are popping up all over the place as people are striving to provide more hands-on experiences in this age of hard-wired creativity. This project provided Women Writing the West members a way to give back to the organization in a very hands-on way. Many of the organization’s founding and sustaining members are still actively involved in the operations, promotion, and celebrations after 20 years. Many of the women remain members because of lifelong friendships developed from a love of the Western voice. Often, location divides a group, but this organization is brought together by a depth of place: It’s not our artistic or quilting ability that connects us, but our stories. The end result is a quilt that visually expresses those stories in the rich and deep hues of the Western soil.
For more information, visit http://WomenWritingTheWest.org.