Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Excerpt from “The Modern Quilting Bee”

by Amron Gravett 
MaryJanesFarm August-September 2014, p76-77

This October, the Women Writing the West will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a gathering in Golden, Colorado. It is in a spirit of tradition and storytelling that a group of 16 quilters from the organization chose to do a collaborative quilting project to raffle off at the conference. Sherry Johns, writer, longtime quilter and project coordinator says, “I want this quilt to be something that represents the women who write about the West, to celebrate 20 years of hard work by the founding members and all those who belong to this organization. Quilts are a celebration of life and this one will become an heirloom for one lucky conference attendee.”

Back in February, Sherry sent 10-inch squares of focus fabric to each quilter with detailed instructions on theme (women, writing, West), colors (Southwest landscape hues), and method (pieced or appliquéd), to produce 20 finished quilt squares that will be stitched into a queen-size quilt. Barbara Dan, writer and quilter, fondly describes the group as the “merry band of quilters.”

But how does quilting tie into women writing stories about the West? Creative women have always used quilts to inspire and tell stories and have even used stories to inspire quilts. Writer Nancy Oswald says, “Quilting is a way to tell a story visually. It’s an art, as is storytelling. Both quilting and storytelling allow for creative expression and enrich everyday life.”

Scenes of typical quilting projects in the past usually involve a group of women sitting around a table with a large quilt in their busy hands, pulling, piecing, sewing, and chatting away. The social element of quilt-making is obvious. The nature of quilting is a collaboration that brings people and fabric together.

Despite the vast geographical distance among quilters in the collaborative quilt project, it was surprising to see how many similarities there were in the individual quilt squares. But perhaps, it’s not so surprising when we understand that our frame of reference, our landscapes, and our stories have the common themes that the quilt assignment hoped to illustrate. It’s not the location of the writers’ and quilters’ homes that is their commonality, but the spirit of the West celebrated through writing, fellowship, and support that brings our colors together.

Collaborative quilt projects are popping up all over the place as people are striving to provide more hands-on experiences in this age of hard-wired creativity. This project provided Women Writing the West members a way to give back to the organization in a very hands-on way. Many of the organization’s founding and sustaining members are still actively involved in the operations, promotion, and celebrations after 20 years. Many of the women remain members because of lifelong friendships developed from a love of the Western voice. Often, location divides a group, but this organization is brought together by a depth of place: It’s not our artistic or quilting ability that connects us, but our stories. The end result is a quilt that visually expresses those stories in the rich and deep hues of the Western soil.

Amron Gravett is a professional indexer, librarian, member of Women Writing the West and this year’s WILLA Coordinator for Scholarly Nonfiction. She can be found at or

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