KETCHIKAN — The dreary, damp climate of Ketchikan seems to have grown a flourishing crop of quilters.
Rainy Day Quilters guild vice-president Marva Otos said the organization has about 110 members, and long-time member Nancy Mitchel said there also are “tons of people” who quilt in town who aren’t members.
Rainy Day Quilters is holding its 22nd annual quilt show, “Quilting in the Rain,” Feb. 16 and 17, featuring quilts of many patterns, sizes, methods and fabrics.
“There will be lots of interesting stuff in the show,” Mitchel said.
The guild was founded in the late 1980s, and its first show was in the Holy Name Catholic School gymnasium. When the show grew too large for that venue, members moved it to several locations, including The Plaza, the Saxman Community Center and the Ted Ferry Civic Center, where it will be this year.
Mitchel said there always are entries from residents from all over Southeast Alaska, and quilters need not be guild members to enter.
The words “addiction” and “passion” kept creeping into the quilters’ vocabulary when they spoke of their quilting art.
Member Dena Minicucci said she finds the craft relaxing and irresistibly challenging.
“I retired from teaching so I could quilt more,” she said, adding that quilting “does absolutely control my life.”
Otos, a 28-year quilter who shares guild vice presidency with Dorian Stanley, said she “absolutely” was addicted to quilting. “It’s just a horrible obsession,” she said, laughing.
Minicucci said her children tease her about working while they were young, but deciding to stay home after they were grown so she could have more quilting time.
One draw to quilting for Minicucci is “being able to fondle the fabric,” she said. “It’s relaxing — very satisfying when you’ve accomplished a project.”
She chuckled when she said non-quilting friends will say, “It’s so relaxing, but we’ve heard you up there cussing.”
Minicucci, Mitchel — who also is a retired teacher — and Otos all seemed to be drawn to conquering difficult challenges.
Mitchel, who said she has been quilting for “not forever” described a quilt she has entered in the upcoming show featuring a pattern called “Montana cartwheel.”
“It was a headache, but it was really fun,” she said.
Minicucci, who has been quilting for about 15 years, said she has a quilt she has been working on for more than 10 years, mostly because she doesn’t work on it all the time, but also because it is a complex project.
When quilters finish stitching their pieced-together quilt tops, they sandwich them with soft batting and backing. Most quilters take that sandwich to a quilter who uses a huge “long-arm” machine to stitch patterns across the layers to give an extra dimension of decoration and, more importantly, to bind the parts together.
Otos and her few old-school compatriots enjoy hand-stitching the layers together.
“It’s a dying art,” Otos said. She clamps her layers together in a hoop, like a large, hefty embroidery hoop, to steady them for her work.
She said she has a whole room full of fabric for future projects. She has entered three lap quilts and a baby quilt in the upcoming show. One of them is made of 72 Crown Royal whiskey bags, which she made for the man who collected them for her.
She said she gives quilts to many family members and friends.
“I am a very popular person,” she said.
She added that she saves her hand-quilted works for special recipients.
“It has to be by blood or by marriage,” she added.
Something else that Mitchel, Otos and Minicucci mentioned as their favorite aspect of guild membership was the camaraderie the quilters enjoy.
Members meet once per month to take care of business, share new information, and to demonstrate quilting techniques, Mitchel said, but in between, small groups gather regularly to work on quilts and collaborate.
She said member Linda Deal helped her with her Montana cartwheel quilt once per week. Deal suggested she pick up the oldest project she’d had languishing. The cartwheel quilt had been in progress for about eight years, because of its difficulty. Together, they finally finished the quilt with the help of another member, Barb Kinunen, who volunteered to help with the tedious, time-consuming job of ironing all of the little pieces.
One of many of the juried show’s categories is for group quilts, Mitchel said.
Her favorite quilt styles are ethnic, including Australian aboriginal, African tribal, Japanese diawabo and quilts made of the “beautiful batiks of Indonesia.”
Mitchel said she has learned many tips, skills and techniques from fellow guild members. Even members who have moved away from town sometimes return to teach classes and visit with friends.
Guild members also sew quilts for charity, such as to help a family whose belongings have been destroyed or damaged in a fire, or displaced children at the Women in Safe Homes shelter. They also create large, sturdy and cheerful bibs for Pioneers’ Home residents who need them.