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Stitches That Stand the Test of Time

February 13, 1992|CAROLINE LEMKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

All the joys and sorrows and hopes and fearsstitched into the layers of that quilt. It scares me what this quilt knows about me. --A quilter For some, there is the desire to create a legacy. Many say that the minute and intricate stitching has a therapeutic quality. Most--whether they are homemakers or climbing the career ladder--have found it a way to unwind and make friends.

Connie Houk of Rancho Penasquitos, in the midst of stitching a queen-size quilt stretched in a cherry wood frame, says she sees quilting as meshing with all her other day-to-day tasks. "You listen to the radio, talk to your children and drive down the road while making out your grocery list. I can't sit in front of the television without having something to do," says Houk. "Quilting has become background music to me. I find that it does more than relax me. It's very satisfying. You can see progress. There's a product at the end."

There are many reasons why women quilt in these high-tech, high-pressure, time-short days. Although quilting has never really gone out of fashion since its utilitarian beginnings, the craft has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts in North County. There are active quilting guilds and specialized shops and classes that offer kinship and education to novice and veteran quilters alike.

The old-fashioned quilting bee, where a group of women sat around a big table in someone's home stitching on a communal project, has become rare, though.

Today, most quilters work on their own projects--which can be bed covers or smaller works such as wall hangings, baby quilts or clothes. Still, none is an island unto herself. Many belong to quilting guilds or meet in quilting classes.

The women (few men venture into this traditionally female domain) involved in quilting come from all walks and generations of life. Young mothers, lawyers, accountants, artists, teen-agers and retired people fill the centers and shops where the guilds meet every month and classes are held.

"It is certainly more widespread than one would think," said Dianne Ferguson, who teaches quilting, owns a quilt shop in Poway and is a certified quilt appraiser. "Quilting isn't just isolated little pockets. Everyone can relate to a quilt."

"There are a lot of different things done in this country craftwise that I'm not sure the American public as a whole knows about, but I don't think you could find one person who doesn't know what a quilt is or can't relate to it in some way," Ferguson said.

Peggy Martin, who also teaches quilting in North County, said she often encounters women outside the quilting realm who say they wish they could quilt, too.

"It's an interesting thing to me, that in such a high-tech world, in such a disposable culture, there is such interest," Martin said. "Quilting is a lasting sort of thing. People feel it is something they are making that is hopefully going to survive them. It's a creative thing that is an expression of yourself."

North County is an easy place to learn about quilting. There's the big stuff--such as precision cutting; and the little stuff--such as the wonders of Bag Balm, a salve that comes in little green cans and is sold in most quilt shops. Normally, the salve is used to soothe the irritated teats and udders of dairy cows, but it works equally well on the rough, needle-pricked fingertips of hard-core quilters.

The novice will soon realize that most quilters have several projects going at once in different stages around the house. And it is not an insult to be called a "fabriholic."

Friendship Quilters in Poway, El Camino Quilters in Oceanside and the North County Quilters in San Marcos are among active quilting guilds in North County. Friendship, with its 200 members, is the largest of the 13 guilds in San Diego County.

At guild meetings, there are newcomers to quilting and people with a heritage of quilting, such as North County resident Sandi McCullough, who comes from a family of missionaries who have quilted for three generations.

"I had been a part of the missionary circle at the church where I grew up in Pasadena and the women would take donated clothing and they would sort through it and they would figure out what pieces they could use to put on the quilt top," McCullough recalls. "As a small child, I was allowed to help sort and cut pieces that were good enough to go into a quilt and they'd all quilt in a group circle at church."

McCullough says she was brought up to realize the value of every little piece of cloth and much of her quilting is worked together with tiny pieces from a variety of sources, but rarely from the new cottons available on the market. Knowing McCullough's penchant for this, her friends often give her leftover scraps of material from their own projects.

McCullough began her own quilting when she received a child's quilt top--the part of the quilt where the fabric blocks have been pieced together--handed down from her great-grandmother, her "kindred spirit," she says.

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