- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

Before Cindy Sisler Simms started grade school, she attended old-fashioned quilting bees and learned how to quilt at her grandmother’s knee. By age 10, she had hand-sewn her first quilt.

“There was a group of eight ladies from the church and another eight ladies from the neighborhood that would meet to quilt,” Mrs. Simms, 57, of Woodbridge, Va., says. “The kids would sit under the quilt frame and pass the needle back up the bottom of the quilt for them.”

Quilting is a tradition that often is passed down from generation to generation, but even when the art isn’t part of a family legacy, classes abound for those who are interested to learn.

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Beginners shouldn’t be tempted to use a sewing machine, says Mrs. Simms, a member of the Cabin Branch Quilters Guild in Woodbridge.

“I feel you need to know how to sew by hand,” she says. “It gives you a better foundation. If you know how to do it by hand, you will utilize any tool to your best ability.”

Quilting actually means to sew three layers of fabric together, says Prue Hoppin of Northwest. She is president of the NeedleChasers, a metro-area quilting group.

From September to June at 1:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month, NeedleChasers meets at the D.C.-Chevy Chase Library in Northwest. On the fourth Wednesday of the month, the group meets at a member’s home for socializing and quilting.

“Many people in the world are hungry for community and companionship,” Ms. Hoppin says. “Quilting is an opportunity for people in many different stages and walks of life to come together over a common interest.”

Quilting is one-third cutting, one-third sewing and one-third ironing, she says. A high cutting table, an ironing board and a large place for sewing are helpful.

The quilter first should decide on a pattern and cut the appropriate pieces. Using a rotary cutter instead of scissorsusually is helpful, Ms. Hoppin says. After two pieces of fabric are sewn together, they should be pressed so the seams stay flat.

Once the top piece of the quilt is finished, the batting is placed in the middle. The backing fabric is then secured, and the three pieces are quilted together.

Making a reversible quilt is an option for some quilters, says Anne Datko of Silver Spring. She is a member of PM Patchwork, which meets at 7 p.m. the third Thursday of the month at Chevy Chase Community Recreation Center in Northwest. She also attends Nimble Fingers at 10 a.m. the first Wednesday of the month at Potomac Community Center in Potomac.

Instead of choosing a solid color for the back of a quilt, to make a reversible quilt, a pattern is pieced together on both sides, she says.

Extra stitches can be added around or within each block to emphasize the pattern. Fabric also may be placed between each block. Also, a border with a different quilted pattern might run around the blocks to complete the design. The border might contain special stitches that make pictures, such as a vine with leaves and flowers or feathers.

When stitching the three layers together, it is a good idea to make sure the backing is bigger than the top, Ms. Datko says. When the layers are sewn together, all the pieces may shrink, and it’s important to have enough batting and backing for the edges to meet evenly.

After the three layers are joined, a binding should be sewn around the edges. The binding should be a color that enhances the overall design. A label with the quilter’s name also should be attached, Ms. Datko says.

“We find now that we have wonderful antique quilts and nobody knows who made them,” Ms. Datko says. “There has been an underappreciation of women’s activities. People didn’t value quilting as art or craft. We are trying to get people to appreciate the creativity that women express through the use of fiber.”

Quilts can be made to represent a variety of themes, says Donna Smith, education manager at G Street Fabrics in Rockville. She is working on a quilt for breast cancer awareness.

G Street Fabrics (www.gstreetfabrics.com) offers a plethora of quilting classes. “Hearts and More Hearts” offered Dec. 2 and 9 will feature how to make a heart-shaped quilt. The quilt can be used as a lap quilt or wall hanging. The seminar costs $69.

“I made a small quilt for my doll when I was about 7,” Ms. Smith says. “It was something my nana taught me how to do. The two of us made the pattern together for a log cabin quilt, that symbolized the happiness and the warmth of a home.”

When it comes to their stockpiles of fabric, the motto of many quilters seems to be, “Too much is never enough.”

“You want one piece more that is a different green or a different blue,” Ms. Smith says. “You always want more fabric. Quilters always have a giant stash of fabric.”

As quilters progress, they might want to learn applique techniques, says Susan McLaughlin, owner of Capital Quilts in Gaithersburg. Capital Quilts (www.capitalquilts.com) offers a variety of classes.

Through hand or machine, fabric can be sewn to the top of the quilt, she says. The technique can be used on any type of quilting project — a place mat, table runners, a baby quilt, a wall hanging or a bed-size quilt.

When making a baby quilt, however, the pieces need to be extremely secure, she says. Because it will be washed frequently, it is more likely that a piece would come undone, especially since the pieces usually are small and delicate.

“Quilting gives people an opportunity to do something as simple or complicated as they want,” Ms. McLaughlin says. “It’s almost addicting.”

It’s a wonderful creative outlet, says Karen Schulz of Silver Spring. She is a member of Cloth and Chocolate, and Woodside and Stitches. Both groups are based in Silver Spring and meet at the homes of their members.

After sleeping under a quilt at her grandmother’s house, she was inspired to make a quilt for her sister for a college graduation gift. She is working on a commissioned quilt based on abstract realism.

Beginning quilters should trust their instincts and get started, she says. There are a number of good books at most libraries on quilting.

“Just do it,” Ms. Schulz says. “You have everything you need right now. There are fabulous classes all over the place, but all you need is some fabric, a needle and some thread.”

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