KETCHIKAN — Two dozen quilts add quite a bit of height to a bed, and 25 quilts make it hip-high. Rainy Day Quilters Guild member Mary Castle stood with her hand on the thick stack of quilts during a traditional “bed turning” event at the local quilters guild’s annual Quilting in the Rain quilt show on Feb. 13 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.
“Because this is the 25th show, we decided that we wanted to go for 25 quilts of various (kinds), like the first quilt that they made or the best one or the last one or their favorite one — just whatever category that they wanted so you could see what had happened over the years to the quilters who first started here,” Castle said.
In a bed turning, an emcee tells the story of a quilt that is displayed on the bed before helpers carefully fold it and put it aside. Quilts included in this year’s bed turning ranged from the guild’s first raffle quilt to the quilt with the “award for winning the most awards” in the show’s 25-year history.
The goal of the ceremony was to show growth and appreciate technical skills, and Castle said she had to do some convincing to include original pieces.
“This quilt is Valerie Sandusky’s — right there,” Castle said, pointing to Sandusky, who was a folding assistant in the bed turning ceremony. “I had to talk her into it many times. She did not want to put this in, and I said, ‘You’re going to put this in.’”
The quilt on display was the first one that Sandusky made. The brown quilt with a quarter-square triangle pattern — in which four triangles make a square, and squares are sewn together to make a grid — is more than 30 years old and has obviously seen a lot of love and use.
“I used this quilt regularly for many years until it started falling apart,” Castle said, reading a statement from Sandusky. “It’s been hidden away for 25 years now. It’s not square, seams have pulled out, holes have mysteriously developed, the flannel backing has furballs, and it’s worn thin, but we love this old quilt to death — literally. Although I have made quilts that are sewn and pieced better and that have more interesting colors and patterns … none have been used and loved as much as my first.”
The Rainy Day Quilters displayed more than 100 quilts from 50 artists throughout the two-day show. Peggy Gelbrich, a founding member of the guild who now lives in Oregon and is a professional quilt maker and teacher, said the show has changed since it began in 1991. The guild itself was established in 1987.
“The very first show was in the (First) Lutheran Church gym,” Gelbrich said. “We had no hanging racks like we do today. We strung cord rope from basket to basket in the gym and hung quilts from those. We stacked up three tables, folding tables, like a teepee, and we’d hang the quilts on each side of those, which was probably kind of treacherous, but that’s what we did. It was just fun.
“I can’t remember how many years we were at the Lutheran church,” she added, “and then we went to Holy Name (Catholic Church), and it was there for a long time, and then it went to (The Plaza) mall, and then it came here. This is the first time I’ve been since it’s been here (at the Ted Ferry Civic Center). … It’s very professional looking.”
Gelbrich said though she moved from Ketchikan about 14 years ago, she still gets the chance to return to the First City to teach quilting classes for the guild. But attending Quilting in the Rain gives her the chance to see what she knew as quilts in progress.
“What’s fun for me is to come here and see all the quilts (from) the classes that I taught — to see the finished quilts,” Gelbrich said. “When I teach a quilting class, I see a lot of quilt beginnings as they start, but I don’t see a lot of quilt endings. I always ask people to send me their pictures when they finish their quilts, but I don’t always see that, so it’s fun to come and see the quilts that are done.”
There were two unfinished quilts at the show, but that was intentional, according to guild member Cathy Tillotson, who heads the guild’s community service committee.
“This quilt right here is a special quilt, because it’s going to go to somebody who loses all their stuff in a fire,” Tillotson said, pointing to a quilt that show-goers were helping tie on Saturday.
Each year, the guild as a group makes a number of quilts and other pieces for community organizations, including “fire quilts” for victims of house or wild fires, clothing protectors for Ketchikan Pioneer Home residents, and pillow cases for local women’s and children’s shelter, Women In Safe Homes, according to Tillotson.
“These pillowcases we give to WISH, to kids and, I assume, adults who don’t have anything,” Tillotson said, pointing out a display of pillowcases. “When we chose them as a project, we chose it because if you’re a kid taken from your home or you have to leave in a hurry, maybe you can’t have any way of putting your stuff together, so if it’s not used for a pillow, it’s used as a stuff bag. We thought it was important.”
Tillotson said the value of a quilted item isn’t always in its function.
“As the maker, you’re thinking about somebody, and you’re wrapping your thoughts into that (piece), and that’s important,” Tillotson said. “Is a fleece blanket more comfy? Often. Is a down comforter cooler? Maybe. Do they look homey? No. A home needs quilts. They don’t look right without quilts in them.”
Quilting also can be therapeutic, Tillotson said, helping quilters through grief or winter blues. But Gelbrich said the reward often comes when the quilt is out of the maker’s hands.
“Giving a quilt to somebody who doesn’t expect it is — I gave one to my brother-in-law one time and I didn’t wrap it, I just took it to their house, and he said, ‘I didn’t have a baby, I didn’t get married.’ My brother-in-law’s kind of a tough guy, but you could see he was a little bit teary about that,” Gelbrich said. “It’s cool to give — it feels really good to give quilts.”
Sandusky agreed, saying that once you start quilting, it’s hard to stop.
“It’s a passion. You just need to keep making them and start gifting them,” Sandusky said. “We’re never going to get rich off of making quilts. We do it because we love what we do. We give most of our quilts away out of love for other people.”