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The Quilting Life

Venice's Very Own Quilting Guild Served The Community Through The Pandemic. Its 'Quilting By The Gulf' Show Celebrates This Fine Art.

Article by Barbara Bailey

Photography by Justin Fennell, John Porteous, Barbara Bailey

Originally published in Venice City Lifestyle

There’s something so comforting about seeing a simple quilt on a bed. A quilt makes a room feel cozy, elicits fond memories of childhood and family, and its colors make you feel warm and happy. But don’t be fooled—there is absolutely nothing simple about a quilt! 

The choices of colors, fabrics, and patterns reveal the interests and personalities of the people who make them. Quilt making begins with pattern and fabric selection. Fabric is cut into specific shapes and sizes, and joined by hand or machine stitching in a process called piecing. An alternative method of making a quilt called ‘appliqué’ attaches patterns onto a larger piece of fabric to create a desired design. Regardless of method, once a quilt top is completed, batting and a backing fabric are added. Quilters work with a wide variety of materials including cotton, wool, polyester, and even bamboo, each with its own weight and loft. 

Some quilts are functional, others tell a story, and yet others offer insight into a culture or the everyday life of the quilt maker. But all quilts share certain things in common—they are examples of careful planning and color coordination, as well as fine craftsmanship, design and needlework.  

Crazy quilts are an excellent example of skillful needlework on quilts.  This style, popular in 19th century America, was mostly for display. Crazy quilts involve joining irregular pieces of fabric such as silk, taffeta, and satin in an apparently haphazard manner. The maker meticulously embellished these quilts with beautiful embroidered flowers, animals, and fanciful stitches, thus elevating needlework to an art form. To the Victorians, the word ‘crazy’ meant ‘wild, crazed or broken.’ Crazy quilts were likely inspired by the ‘crazed’ ceramics and asymmetrical artwork viewed in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition’s Japanese pavilion.  

Today, quilts are still created for everyday use, but many are made as fine art. Quilting is a living craft and quilters are often attracted to the idea of belonging to a group that shares this passion. Locally, the Venice Area Quilters Guild (VAQG) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1983. It has 240+ members and puts on a biennial quilt show, ‘Quilting By The Gulf’. 

VAQG’s members are quilters of all skill levels and interests. Guided by a strong sense of community service, VAQG strives to promote the love of quilts, encourages and preserves the art of quilt making, and shares the knowledge and joy of quilting with others. At the beginning of the pandemic, VAQG members sewed more than 500 washable, reusable facemasks for local hospitals, clinics, medical offices, and senior living facilities. They have since created and donated over 650 quilts to organizations such as Children First, Tidewell Hospice, Our Mother’s House, Guardian ad Litem, and veterans’ groups. 

In 2021, VAQG added a new project—making care bags containing ‘Hearts Full of Love’ heart-shaped pillows for individuals facing breast cancer surgery. The pillows can be used as padding to keep weight off tender areas, or just to give a soft hug when needed.  

The guild holds annual fundraisers to benefit the South County Food Bank, Toys for Tots, and other local charities, and the members love getting together. But last year was a bit different. 

VAQG President, Beth Christoffel, says, “Despite our inability to hold in-person events, we found creative ways to support our members, and the community. Two Venice quilt shops—Crazy Quilters and Deborah’s Quilt Basket—served as drop-off and pick-up stations for many of our projects, enabling us to maintain social distancing. And by using Zoom and Facebook, we found ways to connect our members, conduct workshops and classes, and hold board and committee meetings. While these methods have been challenging for some, we provide tutorials and individual help so everyone who wants to is able to remain connected.”

“Our membership wholeheartedly supported continuing our annual monetary donations even though our normal fund-raising events were not possible,” Beth continues. “As residents of Venice, Englewood, North Port, Nokomis, Osprey and Sarasota, we recognized the need to continue our community support as best as we could.  We are looking forward to life returning to normal, and are very hopeful that we will have the opportunity to share our love of quilting with the public during our upcoming quilt show.”

VAQG’s Quilting By The Gulf will be at the Venice Community Center on Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6, 2022.  The event will be one of the first quilt shows in southwest Florida in 2022, and co-chairs Virginia Perkins, Melanie Paul, and Patrice Bartelme and their team are anticipating a large turnout. 

For each show, members of the guild create an ‘opportunity quilt’ that’s raffled off. This year Virginia Perkins, Cheryl Czerwinski, and Patrice Bartelme collaborated to create the quilt ‘Seas the Day,’ inspired by the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico. This 92” square quilt incorporates varying blue batiks to represent moving water.  Each of the quilt’s nine large blocks, pieced by Cheryl, contain a different creature of the sea, appliquéd by Patrice. The quilting by Robin Kriegs is outstanding, and a close look reveals fishnets and hidden sea life.  The quilt will be on display throughout the show, with the winning ticket pulled on Sunday. All are welcome to this exciting event!

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  • This year's Opportunity Quilt, which will be raffled off at Quilting By The Gulf on March 6th.