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BEUSCHEL: An appreciation for the fine art of quilting

• Jun 21, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Although I do sew and have made a couple of T-shirt quilts and three quilts with my grandchildren, I do not consider myself a quilter. Mainly because the caliber of sewing required for the kind of quilts I see in quilt shows demands a much higher level of perfection than I have the patience for.

All the quilts I made were “tied” quilts, not quilted. The concept of tying a quilt I learned from my husband’s family. It’s quick and doesn’t require a lot of patterning of a quilting design. Let me go back about 55 years when I was first meeting his family and had an introduction to quilting.

Back in the day, the ladies of family belonged to quilt groups. His grandmother had a big wood frame for quilting. When the frame was put up, a quilt top, filling and backing would be stretched and tacked to the frame. The ladies would sit around the frame and hand quilt the quilt. As a section was finished it would be rolled around the side bar of the frame. This same frame was also used to make tied quilts. The ties were usually yarn which was sewn through the quilt, then back up to the top, cut and tied.

When I came into the family, the hand quilting was coming to an end so I never got into learning how to do it. Although I did many types of needle work such as cross stitch, counted cross stitch, needlepoint, knitting and crocheting, quilting passed me by. However, I did catch on to the tied quilt idea and to date I have only done tied quilts.

I had the opportunity to do a day trip to Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana, a week ago on one of my “grandma getaways” with my friend, Neesa. We were able to see a play, have an Amish-style family meal and spend time in various shops around the Amish Acres historic farm. In the gift shop there were many Amish-made quilts for sale. One of things I learned a long time ago on a trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is that the traditional Amish quilts are not the same as the ones the Amish make for sale. The difference being that a true Amish quilt is done in the same dark colors as they use in their clothing versus the more intricate and colorful ones they make for sale.

The Amish are known as being “plain” and do not believe in adornments. Their quilts are beautifully patterned quilts in mostly jewel colors and black. They are industrious people and have found ways to maintain their separateness and at the same time find ways to earn money for the benefit of their families and community. Their industriousness also benefits others who work for them. On an Amish farm in Lancaster, the family quilt-making business employed Vietnamese people to do the hand quilting for their quilts.

Having had my recent encounter with quilts in Nappanee, I spotted an article in the paper about a presentation on quilting sponsored by the Lighthouse Quilt Guild. It mentioned that the presenter had an entry in last year’s ArtPrize. Since I had gone to ArtPrize last year, I was interested in seeing her quilt entry and hearing her presentation. The presentation was hosted at Church of the Dunes, and I headed over there last Monday night. The room was packed with members of the Quilt Guild, and there were some familiar faces as I looked around the room.

The speaker was Dr. Susan Kruszynski. Her program was about her storytelling quilt entered in ArtPrize under the “Time Based” category. This storytelling quilt was actually ten quilted panels that told a story she had heard as a child around the campfire. The title of her entry was “Reaching Upward,” which tells the story of a little pine tree sheltered by the bigger trees as it grows. The entry made the top 25 list in its category. The quilt panels were put on display so during a break attendees were able to see them up close up.

OMG! Unbelievable! The design and intricacy of the fabric pieces was amazing. 

Dr. Kruszynski had also put on a workshop prior to the presentation. In the workshop, quilters learned how to do landscape quilts with photo fabric. Photo fabric is a process I first saw at ArtPrize 2015 when Ann Loveless’ landscape quilt won the People’s Choice grand prize. It’s a remarkable technique that lets the quilter incorporate actual photo images into their quilts. Until you get a very close look at the quilt, you cannot determine what is and is not a photo.

At the end of the evening, Lighthouse Quilt Guild members showed quilts they had completed and the workshop participants showed the fabric landscapes they had made. A surprise item that was shown was an antique quilt that had been donated among other items at a local church. This quilt was a fan design and each fan square had the name of a lady embroidered with it. The Guild is looking for anyone who has information about this quilt. It’s at least 50 years old and must have been done by a church quilt group. If you happened to have information about it, please contact the Lighthouse Quilt Guild through Church of the Dunes.

I’ve enjoyed my time seeing all these kinds of quilts. It’s amazing how small pieces of fabric can come together and create a beautiful work of art. Someday I might join their ranks; one can always hope! But first, where did I put my bottle of P&P — patience and perfectionism?

— By Janice R. Beuschel, Tribune community columnist

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