- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Mary Beery has quilted for six decades, and not even the rheumatism that has twisted and turned her fingers stops her from creating one beautiful queen-size quilt after another."You don't make any money quilting," says Miss Beery, 65. "The only reason I do it is I really love it."
Her favorite quilting spot is a sunny front room of her small white house in Harrisonburg, Va. The house is full of sturdy old appliances and wooden furniture, and outside her window, tall corn sways in the wind.
It has taken Miss Beery as long as three months to finish a quilt when the piecing has been elaborate and the stitching tight. She estimates that she has completed more than 200 quilts. Like most diligent quilters, she has signed and dated every one.
Miss Beery and her sister Wilda Beery, 72, belong to the Old Order Mennonite community. They never married and live together in a two-bedroom house on six acres of farmland.
The Mennonites and the Amish — who were the keepers of the quilting tradition while the rest of the country was preoccupied with 20th-century technological advances — are no longer alone in mastering the folk art.
Modern households have embraced quilting in the past couple of decades, and about 20 million people are estimated to be part-time quilters. The quilting industry is valued at close to $2 billion, according to the trade publication Quilter's Newsletter Magazine.
"Now it's as popular as ever among working women," says Joan Knight, curator at the Virginia Quilt Museum, also in Harrisonburg.
Mrs. Knight says she suspects the popularity has something to do with the desire to learn more about our history.
"It's a folk art that people have learned to appreciate," she says. "The increased interest brings much more awareness of something that might have been stuffed in a closet."
At Authentically Amish, a store in Alexandria that sells products made by the Lancaster, Pa., Amish, owner Chris St. Pierre says he has seen a tremendous interest among modern people in the traditional Amish quilts and other products.
"People are interested in quality," Mr. St. Pierre says. "Everything is so well made. You can't beat it."

Quilts have a long tradition in Europe, Northern Africa and even Japan, Mrs. Knight says. Quilts made their entry on American soil in the 1700s, when quilted bedspreads were imported to the United States from Europe by the wealthy classes.
Later, quilting became an Everywoman's activity. In the mid- to late 1800s, the Amish and Mennonite communities took up the tradition, which they helped sustain during the past century. These religious communities believe in simplicity and usefulness, and the fabric used for the quilts often was scraps left from clothes making.
The reason Amish quilts are made up of dark solid colors is because Amish clothes are mostly in those color schemes, the younger Miss Beery says.
Quilting was a tradition passed from mother to daughter as readily as cooking and taking care of family members who were old and frail.
"You quilted as soon as you were big enough to use a needle," says the older Miss Beery, dressed in traditional garb: a long-sleeved, calf-length dress with a cape over the shoulders and chest, black shoes and stockings and a prayer veil covering her white hair.
The younger Miss Beery (dressed the same way) has quilted since she was 6 years old. She finished her first blanket-size quilt, made with feed-sack cloth, when she was 13 years old.
She kept her pastel-colored feed-sack quilt, which is stored away in a pillowcase in a bedroom closet. It is flat and a bit worn with age, but, after 50 years, it hasn't lost its shape or a single stitch of its quilting.
"When the feed sacks were delivered, you would lay claim to them," the younger Miss Beery says. "You would tell your mother, 'I want that one for a dress.'"
To tell the story of feed-sack quilts, the Virginia Quilt Museum will have an exhibit titled "Memories by the Sackful" starting Sept. 8, Mrs. Knight says.
Until Sept. 3, the museum is showing quilts by Lee Porter, a District resident whose quilts portray religious events. Permanent exhibits include 150-year-old quilts by local women, shown in a Civil War room.
Also approaching is a quilters' favorite: the 2001 Quilt Show and Fair Sept. 9 at the Sully Historic Site, 3601 Sully Road, Chantilly. For more information, call 703/437-1794.

Among modern women who picked up the needle in the 1970s is Jinny Beyer of Great Falls. She lived in India with her husband in the early 1970s and was impressed by that country's wealth of fabrics and designs for clothes and linens.
When she returned to the United States, she started quilting in earnest, using as inspiration the Indian design and fabric flavors. Almost three decades later, she owns a quilting fabric store in Great Falls that sells her designs, she lectures and teaches classes, and she has written at least a half-dozen books on quilting.
"I love geometry and manipulating geometry. … The possibilities are endless," Mrs. Beyer says. "I like to re-create Escher's art."
M.C. Escher was a 20th-century Dutch artist whose drawings of geometrically impossible patterns confuse and intrigue the mind.
Though Mrs. Beyer uses high-tech computer programs to come up with new designs, she encourages her students and customers to do as much of the quilting work by hand as possible.
"It's a challenge," Mrs. Beyer says. "Most people are not learning how to sew anymore. You have to teach them the basics of sewing."
Mrs. Beyer says quilting's popularity among modern women is increasing in part because it is a structured, yet creative, activity.
"So many women are going back to work, but they want to do something creative," Mrs. Beyer says. "If you can't start with your own design, you can make it an individual quilt by using other fabric. … It's creative, yet structured."

Quilting, especially if its tightly stitched, ensures that the batting stays in place and that the quilt lasts longer. A well-made quilt should lie flat when spread out on a bed or floor. If it puckers, that may mean that the stitching is pulled too tight or that there isn't enough stitching to hold the batting in place.
"Quilting is not for looks only. The closer the stitches, the better wear you get," Miss Beery says. "Where the fabric is not quilted down, it gets worn."
The more stitches a quilter adds, the more time it will take, and time of course is money.
"It's legitimate to charge $2,000 or $3,000 for handmade quilts," Mrs. Beyer says. "If anything, quilters are underpricing themselves."
Meanwhile, mass-produced quilts are flooding the market for $100 or less, although they are of less quality, she says.
While there are many fancy fabrics and designs, Miss Beery likes to keep her homemade quilts simple and useful, the way she always has.
"I don't throw out anything," Miss Beery says. "I love the scrap quilt. It goes anywhere, and it's versatile."
Quilting has rewards other than enjoying the final product after months of work. Miss Beery says when she worries or something is bothering her, she escapes in her quilting world.
"If your mind is totally engrossed, what else can you think about?" she asks. "It's very, very relaxing to me. It's therapeutic, I guess you could say."

CARING FOR A QUILT
Don't use old quilts as wall hangings. They may stretch, and the color will fade quickly in direct sunlight.
Don't dry clean quilts.
Do wash a quilt in a washing machine, but don't tumble dry it. Always lay it flat to dry.
Don't expose the quilt to too much sun. If the quilt is used as a bedspread and directly in sunlight, fold it over once so the quilted, solid-colored side is up and the patterned, pieced and colorful side is down.
Do wrap the quilt in a pillow case or other type of fabric if storing the quilt in a chest of drawers or cabinet made of wood, because a quilt can absorb oil from the wood, which may cause stains.

Source: Jinny Beyer, contemporary quilter in Great Falls, and Mary Beery, Mennonite quilter in Harrisonburg, Va.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide