KINGSBURG – Quilters at the Kingsburg Senior Center have come back from the Big Fresno Fair with ribbons – including the People’s Choice Award - for their handiwork again this year. They don’t do it for ribbons, or even for pay, as each quilt is a labor of love, they said.
“I don’t just love quilting, it’s a passion,” instructor Bertha Bailey said. “I’d rather sit down and do a quilt than anything. My house has fabric everywhere.”
Bailey said that after estimating the amount of fabric, time and creativity that goes into each quilt, there simply isn’t a dollar amount she could be put on the creations.
“Some ask if I’d like to sell one to them, but when I tell them it would cost about $1,000 they almost pass out. They don’t realize the time and the hours spent and I’ve probably got more than $200 worth of fabric in one quilt. Fabric is much more expensive than before,” she said.
Of the six quilts entered in the Fresno Fair competitions this year, Lydia Wall earned a second and third for two of hers, including the People’s Choice award.
Jolanta Holguin earned a third-place award for her hand-pieced quilt was entitled “Triangles and More Triangles.” She sews all her quilts by hand and is already working on another that will go to her newest granddaughter.
“I used scraps of material from other quilts. I pieced it by hand and machine quilted the top,” she said of that award-winning project.
Wall said the project that won the People’s Choice Award was inspired by a request from one of her granddaughters.
“The oldest is a senior at Reedley High this year and she asked if I’d make her a quilt for graduation. The pattern she picked out was for a lap-size quilt so I enlarged it to make a larger one.”
The smaller version took second and hangs in Wall’s sewing room above her sewing machine.
“That’s quite an honor as far as I’m concerned because [the People’s Choice Award] is from everybody that went to the fair.”
To illustrate how long it takes to complete a quilt, Wall recalled that she started working on those projects this past summer. She’s spent at least six hours in class each week working on them and finished them in September.
“You’ve got to stick to it,” she said of the months and months of work.
Like many of the other quilters there, Wall sewed years ago when her children were young. She grew up watching her grandmother and mother sew. Now that she’s retired, she has more time to perfect her skills.
“It’s history. It’s an art form that is dying and I’m just carrying on a tradition. I don’t know how we could go about getting our younger generation interested in it, but I’d hate to see it die off. ”
And like most quilters, Wall makes wise use of leftover fabric from one project to the next. Currently, she’s working with a soft teal color fabric that features butterflies, flowers and leaf patterns.
“I had all this fabric left over and I’ve got to do something with it. I’m not sure what this will be, whether it will be a runner for the foot of the bed or throw pillows to go with the quilt.”
Wall said you can tell a true quilter by her treasured boxes of fabric and ironing board that’s always set up to press open the seams on fabric pieces.
“All quilters have what we call a stash. Only our stash is legal.”
Wall said a few new students have joined the group and more are welcomed. But since it’s a senior center where the class takes place, it’s typically retired sewers that have joined.
Other quilters in the group have made projects that were given away before the fair and went to either relatives as gifts or church raffles as fundraisers. Other quilts were taken all the way to a Romanian orphanage. Quilter Linda Klassen delivered the quilts while on a mission trip with her church.
“I knew the orphanage was in a very poor area so a lot of people in the community made quilts. We took at least 20 and they were really appreciated. It’s just so neat to think that clear across the world, they’re enjoying the quilts we made for them.”
This is only the third year that Klassen’s been taking quilting lessons from Bailey at the Senior Center.
“I came in with no skill whatsoever and now I’m actually making quilts on my own, with just a little guidance. Bertha’s a great teacher. She makes you do it right. If it’s not, you have to rip it out. You want to be right. If there’s a mistake, that’s all you see.”
Zandra Nelson is another relatively new quilter and is in her second year. She said she notices her skills improving in lining up the seams and cutting the pattern pieces out more accurately.
“When I was younger I’d make my own clothes. Now that I’m retired and I found out about the quilting class I figured I’d try quilting and I love it.”
Nelson’s been creating baby quilts for family and friends and said her current purple quilt project will be sent to a friend in Indiana with other quilts she’s already completed. As far as next year’s fair, she too, already has a project in mind.
“Sometimes, life gets in the way and you don’t have time. But the ladies are all helpful and answer my questions since I’m still learning.”
Bailey said while anyone over 55 may join the quilting class, they’ll need to have a love of fabric and patience to learn to cut and sew accurately.
“A quilt is not something you just sit down and stick together. You’ve got to cut it out and measure. And if that’s not done right, you have to rip it out and do it over. It’s slow and tedious at first and then you pick up more speed. Over time, your skills and technique get better.”