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September 01, 2014
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Honoring traditions, fabricating new; Meet the divas of quilting

By Lynne Freda

Some do it for the fellowship and conversation. Some do it for the satisfaction of having something to show for all their hard work. Some do it for the art. But they all have the same goal: to make a quilt.

Quilting circles have become extremely popular in the Delaware River Valley region. Hundreds of (mostly) women have organized with other quilters who love the craft as much as they do. They subscribe to daily emails with quilting newsletters; they are slightly addicted to YouTube quilting videos, where they learn new techniques; and they belong to Facebook quilting groups and exchange ideas.

And in most cases, they started quilting in the same way: it was a natural progression from crafting, sewing, or needlework (like crocheting or knitting) to quilting.

“I was always a crafter. I used to sew dolls and their costumes, and always had a sewing machine. Quilting was just a natural progression,” explains Keyna Hust of The Divas Quilting Circle out of Youngsville, NY.

Fellow diva Jennifer Berglas says, “I always sewed and was a crafter. I like to put things together. I made kids’ clothes, place mats, and now quilts.” Same with diva Ruth Pontious of Jeffersonville, NY, “I always sewed. I had four kids and made a lot of their clothes. I started quilting in the ‘80s, by hand, not a machine.”

Given the recent popularity of quilting, you might think it was a fairly recent hobby. But the craft goes back centuries.

Quilts started as a necessity to keep humans warm and out of the elements. They were as basic as woven linen or spun wool. American pioneer women had no time to work on luxuries such as a decorated quilt; they were doing all they could to keep their families fed, clothed and out of danger.

Decorated quilts were for wealthy women who had time on their hands. They were not made of fabric scraps as many are now—rather, they were decorative and showcased the fine needlework women of privilege worked so hard to exact.

Big changes came after the mid-19th century. The advent of manufacturing on a large scale changed the textile industry, making fabric affordable and available. Women no longer had to spin or weave their own materials. Because of that, quilt making became widespread.

The style of quilting also changed around the mid-1800s; block-style quilts became the rage. Quilting bees became popular, with women working on individual blocks and sitting around quilting frames to attach them to the body of the quilt.