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Quilts piece together the fabric of families

May 24, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - In a custom that began more than 150 years ago in the United States, women pieced together sections of fabric that became bed quilts to keep family members warm on cold nights.

It was an example of human ingenuity.

Practically anything laying around the house could be used, from pieces of discarded fabric from other jobs to cloth feed sacks.

Although the quilts could be rough in appearance, some of the designs resembled pieces of art.

Classic designs like the Lone Star, Log Cabin and Bear's Claw were passed down through the generations.

Today, quilts are hot items and can sell for upwards of $1,000.

Some of the latest designs are on display at the Ice House Gallery in Berkeley Springs.

The Quilts 2004 show is being sponsored by the Delectable Mountains Quilt Guild, an organization made up of about 35 quilt makers.

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Although some of the organization's members make quilts to sell, others do it to carry on a tradition and to have quilts to pass onto future generations in their family, said Rika Bennett, a member of the group.

About 30 to 40 quilts are hung around the rear of an exhibit room and down a hallway.

While classic quilt designs still make it onto fabric, the Berkeley Springs show reveals what's new in the minds of today's quilt makers.

Bennett, who estimates she has sewn about 150 quilts, said she often uses darker tones in her creations.

But this year, things were different.

"I was so sick of winter, so this is what I came up with," Bennett said as she pointed out one of her latest quilts.

The design seemed to leap off the quilt with color.

The "Tulip Garden" quilt featured clusters of tulips flashing violet and fuchsia-like colors. The quilt has a white background, in which the same pattern of flowers can be seen if one looks closely.

In the center, the cluster of tulips is in a spiral design.

"It's just incredible," said Ann Darling, another quilt maker and member of the Delectable Mountains Quilt Guild.

The Tulip Garden quilt will be raffled off this year as a fund-raiser for the 2004 Apple Butter Festival in Berkeley Springs, Bennett said, adding that she has sewn about a dozen such quilts for the festival over the years.

Although the exhibit at the Ice House Gallery is a fund-raiser for the Delectable Mountains Quilt Guild, the event is as much a way to have fun showing other people the craft, Bennett said.

"We always end up with more people joining the guild," Bennett said.

Cathy Wetmiller was ready to go.

Wetmiller was among a group of four women who stopped by to see the exhibit.

"It's inspired us to be quilters in our old age," said Wetmiller, of Wheaton, Md.

In the 1880s and 1900s, making quilts often became a social event for women, Bennett and Darling said. The women met at a house, brought along food and sewed quilts for days, Bennett and Darling said.

While some quilts were practical, others were elaborate in design and were used to decorate homes in an economical way.

"This was an outlet for them," Bennett said.

Members of the Delectable Mountains Quilt Guild have crafts such as thread catchers and pin cushions for sale at the Ice House Gallery during the exhibit, which continues through Memorial Day.

The Ice House Gallery is at Independence and Mercer streets in the Morgan County, W.Va., community.

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