Quilters hold virtual quilting bees via the Internet
04:23 PM CDT on Thursday, October 18, 2007
Photos by NATALIE CAUDILL/DMN
Debby Luttrell holds the finished quilt from the Patchwork Party 2007. Ms. Luttrell owns Stitchin’ Heaven, in Quitman.
If you think the quilting bee is a thing of the past, think again. The venerable art of patchwork is alive and well, thanks to a modern-day cyber circle that’s the brainchild of Debby Luttrell, owner of quilt shop Stitchin’ Heaven in Quitman, 100 miles east of Dallas.
It’s an example of how an old handicraft is evolving.
Sensing that camaraderie and a mutual fondness for hearth and home were common threads, she launched the twice-annual Internet event called Patchwork Party, inviting quilting enthusiasts nationwide to participate, compare notes and admire the finished works of a select group of shops.
“I had dreamed up a similar concept to use as a marketing strategy at a trade show, and I took it to the Internet a couple of years later because the time was right,” Ms. Luttrell says.
The first sewing soiree was in August 2006, and word quickly spread. Patchwork Party Fall 2007 – appropriately themed Home for the Holidays and featuring a vintage red, green and black color scheme – is in progress.
Although the traditional medium for quilt block templates is paper, acrylic templates are recommended by Patchwork Party participants.
At the heart of this online gathering are 12 stores from throughout the country, each with its own collectible quilt block. Patterns for the quilt blocks are by quilting designer and author Marti Michell of Atlanta, whose focus is on “quilting for people who don’t have time to quilt. We take traditional blocks with basic geometric shapes and try to put a twist in them.”
In addition to its own quilt block, each store has its own suggested quilt design for assembly of all 12 blocks, viewable via that store’s link to Patchwork Party 2007. Participants can collect the dozen block kits and, if they choose, purchase a separate finishing kit to follow a store’s quilt patterns. The finishing kit consists of everything else it takes to complete the quilt, such as sashing, binding and alternative fabric to make a center pattern or other signature element.
Paper patterns are included in the block kits, although Mrs. Michell’s acrylic templates are recommended by many shop owners and participants because they’re more durable and wrinkle-proof. And in the current quilt world, they’re also more collectible. Her acrylic templates, which are sold separately, don’t have to be cut and pinned down like the paper version, although paper is the traditional template medium.
Participating quilters who prefer not to replicate any store’s quilt design can mix up the blocks any way they wish. Ms. Luttrell says some quilters buy all 12 blocks or just a few to blend with squares of their own design. But most participants tend to buy all 12.
“It’s fun for them when they get 12 packages from 12 stores,” says Kimberly Jolly, co-owner (with her husband) of Fat Quarter Shop in Manchaca, near Austin. “It’s like Christmas.”
Fat Quarter is one of three quilting shops in the Patchwork Party circuit that are online-only operations.
“The stores are all over the country, so it gives us exposure to stores we would not normally have exposure to,” says Diane Patterson, a veteran Dallas quilter. She’s been quilting for about 12 years, and her quilting club meets for a retreat at Ms. Luttrell’s bunkhouse every year.
“The wonderful thing about this program is it allows you to get to know other stores,” says Kim Bicksler of Dallas, a participant in all the Patchwork Parties thus far. “I knew about Stitchin’ Heaven, but I got to know 11 other stores. I just got another newsletter and there was another kit that I just have to have, and they’re all the way out in Georgia.”
Seasoned quilters and novices alike are serious about this skill. “What we aim to do is a really simple quilt so that people would be able to finish it by Christmas,” says Ms. Jolly. “Our goal was to gear things toward the beginning quilter. Each of the stores is different, and each comes up with its own niche audience. That’s part of the fun; they can pick whatever they like.”
As an eight-year quilting veteran at 33, Mrs. Jolly is a living example of the younger audience this pastime continues to attract. “We’re seeing very hip colors from the ’70s, and more and more young quilters are quilting because they can find fabric that’s not ‘grandma’ fabric.”
Most of the stores also offer their own patterns for other items such as table runners, placemats, Christmas stockings and pillowcases that coordinate with the quilts.
Ms. Luttrell says that during the spring event, which ran from Valentine’s Day through Memorial Day, more than 24,000 quilt blocks were sold, averaging 2,000 per store. Nov. 30 is the final day for purchasing the current set of blocks. Expect something different this spring.
“In the quilting world, fabrics come and go really fast,” adds Ms. Luttrell. Of the popular Patchwork format, she says, “It just shows that quilters are Internet-savvy.”
Nancy Myers is a Dallas freelance writer.