by Melodie M. Davis
Quilting has been a vibrant folk and practical art in the Shenandoah Valley ever since waves of German families—Mennonite, Old Order, Brethren and Lutheran—settled here in the early 1700s.
But quilting today is not just for your grandmother or older aunt, say Valley quilting enthusiasts Barbara Cline of near Bridgewater, and Amanda Holsinger of rural Broadway. Quilt art is creatively stitched by those under 40 as well as over, including 8 to 9 year olds up through 80 to 90 year olds, and not just females. Plus, modern quilting doesn’t have to be handstitched to win prizes and acclaim.
Barbara is the author of four books on the craft and well remembers her earliest attempts at quilting under the watchful eye of her grandmother, Vera Early Heatwole, also from the Shenandoah Valley. Grandmother loved to teach the art of quilting and wanted Barbara and all six of her sisters to not only learn to quilt, but come to love it.
Barbara vividly recalls Grandmother inviting her and her sisters to a “quilting.” Like other girls of her time, Barbara already had experience sewing items both by hand and on a machine. After her first attempt quilting at Grandma’s house, she hated it. “The needle kept bouncing back into my face,” she recalls. But her third lesson was the charm where she began to feel “Hey, I can do this” and sensed the satisfaction of accomplishment.
For a while, Barbara’s parents owned the fabric and sewing supply store in Dayton, Va. now known as Patchwork Plus. Barbara says her father thought a sewing store would be a good family business with seven daughters. Barbara began working there after school when she grew old enough, putting away “sewing notions” (supplies), and later, selling fabrics. Although her parents eventually sold the business, she still teaches quilting classes there and wherever she is invited, as part of her far-flung quilting business.
Teaching quilting is an opportunity to not only “give back” but to do so better. “I was always a slow learner in school,” Barbara remembers. “So when I teach classes, I take special joy in working with those who might be having a hard time understanding what is meant by directions or how to do it themselves.”
If you take a look at the quilting how-to books Barbara writes on easier methods of piecing together innovative quilt designs, you would know she has a special knack for geometry, art and design. Her four books are called, “Amazingly Simple Triangle Stars,” “Simple Triangles,” “Diamond Chain Quilts” and “Star Struck Quilts,” from C & T Publishing. She is now working on a fifth book for which she is holding a quilting retreat with her sisters. “My books place an emphasis on easier techniques for piecing fabrics and creating new patterns,” she explains.
One of Barbara’s favorite wall hanging quilts was made from a photo taken of her grandmother Vera quilting (see photo)—a marvel in creative quilt design. Barbara frequently quilts by machine but enjoys the fellowship and camaraderie of the sewing circle with others from her church, Dayton Mennonite, as they make beautiful quilts and comforters for people in need and to donate to the annual quilt auction at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale.
Amanda Holsinger’s quilting is completely done by machine. She “freehands” stitches with a machine known as a longarm. A longarm is substantial investment, so Amanda uses this type machine to stitch quilts for some income from her home. She has an Etsy online shop and does custom work when someone wants her to stitch a quilt they’ve pieced or designed.
The biggest thing is just to enjoy it and just relax. Some are afraid to try new steps. Don’t worry about making mistakes.
Quilts are made of a top layer pieced and designed usually along a specific pattern; a middle layer of “cushion” known as “batting;” and quilt backing, usually a large single piece of either plain or patterned fabric.
There are several different ways to do the actual quilting or joining together of the layers. One is to tie large knots with thick string, which results in the commonly known “comfort,” or “comforter.” Another is the traditional hand stitching Barbara’s grandmother taught her.
But there are also several ways to do machine stitching with Amanda’s longarm machine. These include 1) using an attachment that computerizes the operation according to software with different designs; 2) marking the quilt with a pattern and following curlicues, swirls, triangles, waves or lines that edge the small quilt pieces; or 3) freehand, which is what Amanda enjoys most. “I just ‘doodle,’ moving the machine over the quilt top however the fabric moves me.”
Amanda’s interest in quilting first came while she and her husband lived in Blacksburg, Va., where she learned from a friend who had been taught how to quilt by an older woman. “I started with a basic Log Cabin pattern, hand quilting and all that; as I got more interested, my personality of wanting to get things done quickly led me to like machine quilting far better.”
Then while living in Arkansas ten years or so ago, Amanda was introduced to longarm quilting through quilt shops that rented out longarms. “I learned how to do it and eventually got one of my own,” she explained. She hasn’t really looked back.
Once a month an organization known as Quilts of Valor sends her a quilt to stitch, for veterans and wounded soldiers. Amanda’s husband is a pilot with the West Virginia Air Guard. “He’s flown wounded soldiers out of Afghanistan and has seen Quilt of Valor quilts with soldiers on his missions,” Amanda noted, a neat connection with her husband’s work. Amanda also donates quilts to other local auctions such as one for a new playground at Plains Elementary School.
What would Amanda say to other young quilters interested in the art but not sure they’ve got the patience or skill for it? “I would say the biggest thing is just to enjoy it and just relax. Some are afraid to try new steps. Don’t worry about making mistakes.” She points out that older quilters who make fine, tiny stitches so easily have had years and years to perfect their skills.
“It’s art: it can’t be ‘wrong,’” she summarizes. “Unless it falls apart! Then there’s something wrong,” she laughs.
“This is an exciting time to explore quilting,” Amanda adds. “A lot of people have a lot to offer. The more quilters we have, the better. We have great shops in this area with great quilting fabric!” (see sidebar).
The Holsingers have four children; the two oldest are boys, ages 13 and 10, and the two younger are girls, ages 5 and 1. How does she find time to do quilting of any type with four active children?
“I share my sewing room with my daughters,” explains Amanda. They play while she sews. “They are pretty good with playing there throughout the day; in the summer I garden, so I don’t have a lot of time. When they all go back to school, I’ll do a lot more.” She continues, “It’s very much a creative moment; it’s my fantasy world, if I can get a few minutes on the machine.”
Amanda and her family attend Muhlenberg Lutheran Church in Harrisonburg, and she has enjoyed “comfort making” with Lutheran women here in the Valley which is very popular. The women of the Timberville Lutheran parish make about 100 tied “comforts” a year. Amanda says it seems to be a neat Valley tradition she’s not found in other areas where she’s lived, perhaps stemming from those similar German roots for many Mennonites, Brethren, Amish and Lutherans.
Amanda also notes there are all kinds of quilters. “There are some that just piece, some that just quilt and everything in between. The more we have, the more it develops. It’s a really exciting time to be a quilter.”
Melodie Davis, editor of Valley Living, is the mother of three young adult daughters, and lives with her husband near Harrisonburg, Va. She also blogs at www.FindingHarmonyBlog.com.
Barbara H. Cline blogs at www.delightfulpiecing.com and www.quiltingal.blogspot.com, where you can find information on her quilting books.
Amanda Holsinger’s quilting website is www.Homeplacequilts.com from where you can find her Etsy shop www.etsy.com/shop/HomeplaceQuilts.
Quilting Resources, Classes, Groups, Fabrics, Museum, and Shows!
“Beloved Amish and Mennonite Quilts” coloring book. Coming soon at Herald Press. http://store.mennomedia.org/Coming-Soon-C1009.aspx or 800-245-7894.
Patchwork Plus, 540-879-2505, 17 Killdeer Lane Dayton. Offers full schedule of groups and classes. http://patchworkplus-quilting.com/classes/calendar/
Ragtime Fabrics, 540-434-5663, 926 West Market Street, Harrisonburg. Offers various groups and summer kids’ and teens’ camps, including quilting. Camp participants are then eligible to attend monthly sewing circles especially for children and teens during the school year. www.ragtimefabrics.com/
The Cloth Peddler, 540-868-9020, 5330 Main St, Stephens City. www.clothpeddler.com
Rachel’s Quilt Patch, 540-886-7728, 40 Middlebrook Avenue, Staunton. www.rachelsquiltpatch.com
Virginia Quilt Museum, 540-433-3818, 301 S. Main Street, Harrisonburg. Entrance fee. Features historical quilts and exhibits that change frequently. www.vaquiltmuseum.org
The Shenandoah Valley Quilters Guild, organizes a huge quilt show every other year with prizes, contests and vendors; next one in 2018. Meets third Saturday of every month at the Sunnyside Presbyterian Retirement Community, Harrisonburg. www.SVQG.org
Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale Quilt Auction. Annual auction & sale benefitting Mennonite Central Committee. Sept. 30 – Oct. 1, 2016, Rockingham County Fairgrounds. http://vareliefsale.com/auction-category/quilts