Quilters piece together history
The idea, hatched by state Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith about two years ago, was an ambitious one: Ask quilters in every West Virginia county to sew a square for a quilt to commemorate the state's sesquicentennial.
This past summer, his department put out the word. Who knew if quilters would respond or if they indeed would provide squares representing each of the state's 55 counties?
Local quilter guilds helped establish some simple parameters. Reproduction Civil War-era fabric was donated by popular quilt fabric manufacturer Andover Fabrics, thanks to efforts by Winona Bays, who owns the Huntington quilt shop Sew Many Blessings and is an active member of Creative Quilters there.
The quilters determined the best size for each square would be 6 1/2 inches unfinished, to keep the finished quilt a reasonable size. All interested quilters had to do was contact the Division of Culture and History, after which they would be mailed a packet with fabric and the few rules of the process, another of which was to create a square that represented their home county. Quilters were permitted to add up to one-third of their own fabric or embellishments.
Renee Margocee, the division's grant coordinator for individual artists, said there was no jurying process. If a quilter requested a packet, the quilter got a packet.
It was done a bit on faith - but quilters came through, and then some. Each square was of a quality worthy of the finished project. Some were sewn by hand, others by machine. There were pieced quilt squares and appliqued squares. Some were embroidered and otherwise embellished.
Margocee said when she did not get inquiries for some counties, she went searching for quilters, contacting local post offices and other businesses to seek them out.
In the end, there was at least one square from every county.
All day Thursday in the basement of the Culture Center, quilters from the Huntington guild and one from Parkersburg set up their sewing machines and put together what ended up being 72 quilt squares, along with a braided pattern border they cut and pieced.
The women brought their sewing kits, including quilter's pins, cutting mats, rotary cutters and, of course, irons.
They didn't seem to mind giving up a day to work.
"This is a part of history," Huntington-area quilter Toni Asbury said.
Parkersburg quilter Sheryl Carpenter, who owns Parkersburg Sewing and Quilting and is part of the Helping Hands quilters guild, brought her trusty 1953 Singer Featherweight sewing machine along for the day.
Corky Perry, from the Huntington group, was the chief iron operator.
The quilt top goes next to Joni Hoffman of Duck, a hand quilter known for her fine work.
She will be responsible for stitching the front of the quilt to its back, a process that will take three months.
It will return to the capital in plenty of time for its unveiling at the state's 150th anniversary celebration June 21.
"It will be in the building for a whole year and then we'll travel it," Reid-Smith said.
Contact writer Monica Orosz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4830.