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Taking a Stitch Online

Quilting sites are giving momentum to a great American pastime.


Toni Carringer enjoyed crafts and sewing, so it wasn't difficult for her sister to get her hooked on quilting a few years ago. It's an ancient and honored occupation. Since pre-Revolutionary War days, quilters have gathered to work on joint projects and to swap patterns, enjoying both the finished product and the company of friends.

Formal guilds and smaller quilting bees still bring an estimated 6 million U.S. quilters together to work and to socialize. But for Carringer, 33, an administrative assistant for Marriott International who lives in Woodbine, Md., there was a catch. "With four kids, work and family, it's hard to keep that up," she said. "It's easier to do it online."

Now Carringer relies on the World Wide Web for instant access to quilting groups, experts, patterns, tips and techniques, along with the opportunity to meet people and share ideas in an informal environment where she never feels left out.

Thousands of other people use the latest technology to enjoy one of America's oldest pastimes.

"The Internet hasn't really changed [quilting]--it's just expanded it," said Bonnie Browning, president of the American Quilting Society.

Consider the Nifty Fifty quilt square exchange, which relies on Web sites and e-mail lists to recruit one participant in every state.

Each contributes 50 matching fabric blocks, elaborately sewn and layered to display a picture or pattern that represents her state. Each member receives a block from every other participant in return. Then, they sew their blocks together to make the top of the quilt, add a cloth backing and stuff the center with fluffy cotton or polyester batting. Decorative stitches secure the three layers and complete the project.

Leonardtown, Md., farmer Cheryl Pinkerton and 49 other quilters from across the country recently finished their Nifty Fifty, a project that required more than a year to organize. They relied on a Web site and electronic mailing list to announce the color scheme, to set guidelines and to post deadlines.

Pinkerton, 41, represented Maryland with a star pattern named after Barbara Fritchie, the patriot from Frederick who reportedly defied Confederate troops. "I only had to research one state," she said, "But I ended up with 49 other beautiful blocks that were made with the same thought and effort." They included Alaska's square portraying an Eskimo woman and Wisconsin's square presenting a butter churn.

Teresa Drummond of Stafford, Va., founded the Nifty Fifty movement. She tried at first to get quilters together by phone and fax. The commitment of time was substantial, and the experience was frustrating.

"Always, somebody backed out, she said." But when a friend from Pennsylvania started advertising on Web sites and in quilting chat rooms, the project took off.

In 1998, three years after she began, members of Nifty Fifty 1 gathered in Virginia to sort squares and to send completed bundles to the members.

This year, groups 5, 6 and 7 will complete their exchanges while groups 8 through 10 finish recruiting members. Leaders for 10 more groups are waiting for their turn to solicit participants. Separate "Twenty Plenty" groups have begun exchanging blocks internationally as well.

The Web-based tactic apparently works. "There's a real good sharing of knowledge, information and tips," said Pinkerton, who has been quilting for 10 years. "It's like having a gazillion people with the same interests."

The same electronic communications tools enable the quilters to exchange personal information, opinions and concerns, just as quilters who meet in person have done for centuries. One issue that comes up often is breast cancer. One Nifty Fifty hostess died from the disease, and others have faced it themselves or with family members. As a result, each Nifty Fifty group asks its members to send in a few extra blocks for quilts to be used in breast cancer-related fund-raisers.

Elsewhere on the Web, a variety of sites offer quilters instructions, free patterns, discussion forums and opportunities to swap fabric or quilt squares.


Quilting Sites

Here are some sites that can teach you more about quilting:

* Alliance for American Quilts,

* American Quilter's Society,

* Applique Society,


* Quilters Hall of Fame,

* Quilting Post,

* World Wide Quilting Page,

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