KETCHIKAN — More than 20 years ago, four women decided to get together once a month to sew quilts regardless if anyone else showed up. They advertised their new group in the newspaper, and nine women showed up to quilt with them.
The group is still going strong, with considerably more people in a different location, but continuing with the same passion for log cabins, pin wheels, stars and nine-patch patterns.
Approximately 90 members make up the Ketchikan Quilt Guild these days. The group meets once a month to learn new techniques from teachers and each other, as well as chat and work on projects.
“I find it pretty wild that we started off with four of us, sitting around my living room saying, ‘What do we do?’” said Barbara Massenburg, guild co-president and charter member. “It’s kinda fun too, because we were enthusiastic and had big ideas, but we really didn’t know what we were doing.”
More than membership has changed for the guild, as new technology surfaced in tools — moving from scissors to rotary cutters — and sewing machines came with more features.
Traditionally, quilts are made with a single piece of fabric for the backing, fluffy material called batting in the middle and a piece of material for the top. The three layers are stitched or tied together, and the edges are bound and sewed shut.
The guild uses “quilt” as a broad term to encompass fabric piecing as well. The blankets’ tops are not simply a big piece of fabric stitched to its bottom piece of fabric. Tops are carefully sewed together in patterns using myriad colors and textures. Only after a quilter has worked for hours — nay months — piecing together the top of the blanket is it stitched together with the batting and backing.
Even the process of sewing the layers together has changed through the years, moving to include machine-quilting as well as traditional hand-quilting.
The annual quilt show last weekend featured multiple quilt categories. More than 100 blankets and stitched art were on display to show off the fabric colors, stitching, artistry and mere size.
For the first time last year, the guild had a “bed turning” presentation, during which stories of multiple antique quilts were shared. The presentation was continued this year, but instead of highlighting only antique quilts, the event included quilts that have an interesting story.
Community Service Chairwoman Cathy Tillotson said a section of the show featured relief quilts that are given to members of the community after they experience a house fire or lose their belongings.
“Several years ago we thought the community might like to be involved in tying a quilt to see how they are put together,” Tillotson said. “(The top) may not be all perfectly coordinated, because it’s a random sampler of fabric donated from everybody’s stash, but it is something they can put on their bed and use for comfort in a time of need.”
She said she has a good time at the show teaching members of the community how to tie a quilt knots.
“It’s interesting because you have some who are so excited to do it, and some who are just very tentative about it,” Tillotson said. “But I just ask them if they tied their shoes that morning. Tying a quilt is that simple.”
Guild Co-Vice President Roxann Byron said the process of tying quilts can be therapeutic.
“People start to tie, and things just come out of their mouths,” Byron said. “It will evoke a memory and you get people talking and pretty soon they have tied a whole bunch (of knots).”
Tillotson said the quilt tying is the most obvious part of community service that people see at the quilt show, but the guild’s service efforts are more broad than that.
She said the group donates “neck napkins” to the Ketchikan Pioneer Home, and blankets to child protective services and WISH.
“The group, and the quilters themselves, are very generous with their time and resources,” Co-President Mary Larsen said.
Through the years the guild’s membership has evolved and changed as people move in and out of Ketchikan. Massenburg said the constant has been the love of quilting and the generosity of the guild’s members.
“I’m so proud of everyone,” she said. “They are so talented, and they do high quality work. They are a fantastic group of women.”