The Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives featured the patchwork heritage of local quilting with a living exhibit on May 21, as members of the Sunshine Coast Quilters’ Guild marked the 40th anniversary of its association with a public demonstration of skills at the Gibsons museum.
The guild’s membership includes more than 100 textile artists from Langdale to Egmont who gather monthly in Sechelt to sew together and share resources. The organization also includes five satellite groups, with names like Gone to Pieces and The Pender Harbour Piecemakers, that meet in outlying communities.
Members’ ages span six decades. The group includes several active quilters in their 90s.
“When we have these meetings at the end of the month, everybody’s got a quilt or something they want to show,” said Phyllis Argyle, current president of the guild. “Every piece has a story to tell, whether you just finished it or you’re making it for somebody special.”
Over 4,000 member-created quilts have been donated by the guild to Sunshine Coast organizations and residents. Each infant born on the Coast receives a handmade baby blanket.
Members are currently sewing quilts for six families from Ukraine who are moving to the area. Dozens of other quilts—in predominantly blue and yellow hues—have been shipped to families besieged by war in Eastern Europe.
The ancient art of quilting is the embodiment of history, explained Argyle. Scraps from timeworn fabrics—often clothing with sentimental value—are preserved by being sewn into blankets and artworks.
“Patches would be made from this guy’s pants and shirt or this girl’s dress,” said Argyle. “They become a memory in themselves. I have a quilt my mother made with many medallions [of cloth] and each one has clothing from a family member or a friend. I can look at it and recognize my high school apron and my sister’s party dress.”
Old neckties have also been assembled into flamboyant fabric compositions.
The Quilters’ Guild encourages its members to label their projects with the creator’s name and year—as well as the event it commemorates, whether a birth, wedding, or homecoming.
“The labels help carry the history, and then if they do get passed down, they’re that much more valuable because you can perceive when and why they were made,” added Argyle.
According to Hilary Henderson, a past president of the guild, modern technology is slowly transforming the craft. Roller knives and adhesive backings have simplified the process of cutting and arranging patterns before intricate stitching fixes them in place. The innovations have led to a renaissance in design. In addition to the traditional checkerboard pattern, members are fashioning landscapes and oblique-shaped abstracts.
“Quilting used to be for utilitarian blankets, but now it’s art,” said Henderson. “So now you have people who almost paint pictures with quilting—mountain-scapes, poppies, even portraits.” A technique called thread painting allows for photorealistic renderings that add depth and dimension to the fabric.
“It’s not your usual bedcovers,” quipped Henderson.
In its May newsletter, the group highlighted youth outreach efforts by celebrating two young quilters: Caleb Sheilds of Gibsons and Maya Somogyi of Sechelt. Their work will be displayed at a Canadian Quilter’s Association exhibition in June.
The Guild is planning a major showcase in spring 2023 with an exhibition of over 200 quilts. Members maintain an active web presence at scquilters.com, which includes information for prospective practitioners.