Weaving Generations Together with Quilting

Quilting gives people of all ages a unique chance to showcase their talents and passions. Learn about three dedicated quilting groups in our area.

Quilting draws together people of all ages, and local guilds provide one forum for area quilters to share their techniques, talents and passions – not to mention, the occasional public showing, like this one hosted by Crystal Lake’s Scrappy Quilters network.

Throughout the ages, quilting techniques have been used all over the world. The earliest known quilted garment is said to reside on a carved ivory figure of a pharaoh from the Egyptian First Dynasty. The Crusaders brought quilting to Europe in the late 11th century.

In the Great Plains of America, settlers used quilts as covers for doors and windows, as floor mats for children, as bedding, as works of art, and even as a means of paying the bills.

It was these Great Plains quilters who also implemented the idea of a “quilting bee” – an event where women brought their projects to a full-day affair that consisted of lunch, socializing and maybe an evening dance. During a quilting bee, it was commonplace for young ladies to secure quilts for their hope chests.

These early gatherings embody the camaraderie that many quilters still experience today when they participate in quilting guilds or groups – and there are many to be found in the northwest suburbs. In fact, one of the best ways to get your feet wet is to join up with one.

“Everyone has to have their beginning at it, and you can do it on your own schedule,” says St. Charles quilter Sharron Evans. “It’s great at the end of the day to unwind, to sit and sew.

Cathy Steiner, president of Northwest Suburban Quilters Guild, became involved with quilting as a teen. She started with small projects such as handbags and pillows, and went on to earn a degree in apparel design. A quilter since 1989, she believes everyone should consider joining a guild, no matter their expertise.

“There is a mentorship aspect to becoming involved with a guild, and it’s a place where participants continually gain inspiration,” she says.

The Northwest Suburban Quilters Guild was established in 1979 as a way to bring together hobby quilters around northwest Cook County.

With more than 200 current members, the guild caters to expert and beginning quilters alike, teaching all types of quilting and fostering the art in its various forms. Members meet the third Thursday of every month (except December) at Rolling Meadows Community Center, in Rolling Meadows.

Meetings often involve workshops with quilting experts and authors as well as show-and-tell opportunities.

Evans, who’s president of the Prairie Star Quilt Guild in St. Charles, started sewing as a teenager and at one time owned one of the largest quilt shops in Chicago. A 12-year member of the Prairie Star guild, Evans is passionate about art quilting, especially pieces that hang on the wall.

With 356 members, the guild features a free library filled with valuable resources including books aimed at beginners. Meeting on the fourth Monday evening and/or the following Tuesday morning of each month at Congregational United Church of Christ, in St. Charles, the guild hosts lectures, show-and-tell opportunities, workshops, and a yearly banquet showcasing community projects – such as the Quilts of Valor program, through which the guild gifts handmade red, white and blue quilts to local veterans.

“Make sure to join a guild,” Evans says. “Once I did, the world opened up to me.”

Guilds aren’t the only way quilters are sharing their passions. Other kinds of quilting groups are similarly providing valuable and life-changing experiences, as well. The Scrappy Quilters network in Crystal Lake offers women the chance to learn about quilting while also giving to the community. The group produces quilts for at-risk infants at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin.

Network chief Diane Williams started quilting nearly 30 years ago after becoming disenchanted with sewing her own clothing. The network, which meets the first and third Fridays of the month at First Church, in Crystal Lake, initially started off teaching quilting skills before evolving into an outreach.

“We provide seven quilts a month for the Special Care unit,” Williams says. “The quilts are draped over the isolette to provide darkness from the 24/7 lights.”

Scrappy Quilters teaches quilting skills with donated materials, so participants needn’t buy their own. There is one caveat, however: the finished products are expected to be donated.

“Most women have shared that they enjoy the process of making something that will be cherished and valued,” Williams says. “It’s a skill that has roots in our history, and beginners can create a beautiful quilt with little experience. Plus, most quilters are a generous, caring group. We are constantly learning from the women who join us, and there’s always something new to quilting.”

Heading out to a fabric store, visiting a local quilt shop or taking a sewing class can provide a starting point to learning the craft. More often than not, quilt shop workers are happy to assist with ideas, says Steiner.

But even before you go shopping, you have to find the style that most appeals to you. Common styles include traditional quilts, utilitarian quilts, art quilts, challenge quilts that require specific fabrics, wholecloth quilting, hand or machine quilts, modern and solid quilts, and elaborate and refined applique quilts.

Most hopefuls or enthusiasts do not easily get bored; at all skill levels, there are many accessible projects to dream up – from wall art to purses, bags and blankets. Fabric options are endless.

“Most of us involved in quilting are fabric-oholics,” Evans says with a chuckle. “We like to buy material just because it’s beautiful. We all love our fabric. I have a big wall of fabric.”

She advises quilters to purchase fabric from a high-quality, locally owned store or a quilt show, rather than from chain stores, which she says may have lower-quality fabric. Poor-quality fabric can be difficult to work with, especially for the new quilter.

You’ll also want to obtain quality thread, a decent sewing machine and enough time to study some quilting videos online.

Above all else, the quilt experts unanimously agree it’s pertinent to start small and take things one step at a time.

“I’ve seen too many new quilters decide to make a bed-sized quilt and get frustrated by the enormity of such a first-time project,” Williams says.

Evans adds: “Quilting should be your therapy; it shouldn’t send you to therapy.”

Though local quilting guilds have enjoyed a strong following from members of the baby boomer generation, there has been a steady rise of younger people coming forward, eager to learn the craft. Perhaps it’s because of the hobby’s creative and brain-stimulating aspects; or maybe it’s because quilting reminds people of a bygone era, of a time when life moved more slowly and things were simpler in nature.

“Quilting is definitely something not taught in schools; my own degree is no longer offered,” Steiner says. “There is an entire generation of people, millennials and younger, who are out there wanting to learn. Quilting is a great way for us to slow down.

Everything is so fast now, with the speed of media, that quilting has become a great opportunity to slow down while also relieving a lot of stress.”

Evans agrees. “It’s so easy to get hooked,” she says. “You don’t need to know a lot of math, and you can use either a few tools or a gazillion. It’s a relatively inexpensive hobby. There is an insurgence of younger people interested now. People tend to begin showing interest in quilting for occasions like the first baby or grandbaby, and they want to make a special blanket. Quilting as a hobby has become a fellowship and inspiration in the community.”

As old and new generations come together, they also discover they have a lot to teach one another.

“I’ve seen lots of younger people quilting who have astounding ideas that push the traditional envelope,” Williams says. “Fabrics have changed in the past few years, and techniques are also evolving. It’s not just our grandmother’s hobby any longer.”

How to Start Quilting

To find a quilting group near you, visit quiltguilds.com or check out one of these local groups.

Northwest Suburban Quilters Guild
Website: nsqg.club
Meets the third Thursday of every month (except December), at Rolling Meadows Community Center, 3705 Pheasant Dr., Rolling Meadows.

Scrappy Quilters Network
Website: clumc.org/ministries
Meets the first and third Friday of the month at First United Methodist Church, 236 W. Crystal Lake Ave., Crystal Lake.

Prairie Star Quilt Guild
Website: PSQG.org
Meets the fourth Monday evening and/or the following Tuesday morning of each month at Congregational United Church of Christ, 40W451 Fox Mill Blvd., in St. Charles.