In a common room at Williams College, a group of students sort through fabric squares, scarlet and indigo, pine green and chocolate. In Great Barrington, fiber artist Karen Eckmeier from Kent, Conn., explains how to turn fire-colored cloth into a sweep of autumn leaves.
An old New England artform is alive and thriving in the Berkshires.
"People enjoy creating something, often for other people, family, friends," said Karen Jolin, owner of the new Karen's Quilting Corner in Williamstown.
She has quilts her mother's aunt made when her mother was born, and then when her mother married.
Susan Frasier has a quilt from her many-greats grandmother, a log cabin pattern of spiraling rectangles with a velvety nap. And she has seen people get involved with quilting to make a baby quilt for a shower. She and her husband, Dan Sullivan, have owned the Pumpkin Patch in Lee for more than 23 years.
She and Jolin enjoy the friendliness and the practicality of the craft.
"I like quilts to be used," Jolin said. "When I make a baby quilt, I want to see it on the floor."
Frasier said she has always sewn, and she learned in school.
As he pinned the top of a log cabin quilt to the edging, Sullivan explained that they had begun quilting nearly 30 years ago with a wholesale business, originally making quilts for Country Curtains and the Norman Rockwell Museum. When the United States began importing quilts, in the 1990s, they began to hold classes and sell fabric and make quilts for sale.
Both shops carry quilts to sell, but the quilters speak with enthusiasm about helping people to make their own.
Jolin has also sewn since she was small. She had lessons as a child, she said, and learned more in High School. And she had made small quilts along the way, but she began in earnest around 2002, soon after Tala's Quilt Shop in North Adams opened in Heritage Park.
The shop and community Tala Neathawk built helped Jolin to get more active.
"I loved what she did," Jolin said. "You'd go in there and feel better. She talked to people and got them engaged and motivated."
Tala Neathawk closed her shop in 2012, and it left a void, Jolin said. A community had grown up around it, and people like her had begun quilting because of it. When she learned that Neathawk had no plans to reopen, Jolin began to make plans of her own.
Karen's Quilting Corner opened this summer on Route 7 in Williamstown, across from the ‘6 Pub.
Jolin works in the controller's office at Williams College and minds her shop in the evenings. Marlene Bottesi, an avid quilter, works with her during the day.
Local artists from Pittsfield, Stephentown and Pownal, Vt., sell patterns in her shop.
People have come in to talk and to learn, and she has started classes. She and Bottesi hold open sewing sessions where people can sit and talk and get work done: patchwork, piecing fabric shapes together, appliqué -- sewing a farbric shape on top of a fabric surface.
The day before, someone had come in with a question, Bottesi said,
"I had to learn how to do it first," she said.
"There's always something new to learn," Jolin said, a new technique, a new pattern, a new tool, a new fabric.
Most people sew by machine, she said, but she knows a few local women who piece quilts by hand, putting together the top layer of bright fabric. They can send out to have this layer, the back layer of cloth and the cotton layer between them sewn together by machine.
Frasier and Sullivan agreed that machines have made quilting faster and easier, though some of their quilt--makers have made the thread part of the artform, turning thread into ripples on a pond or patterns of bark on a tree trunk.
Quilts and panels hang along thesop walls, patterns of stars, diamonds, geometric patterns with color rippling through. Some show landscapes, sea-scapes, coffee-brown cows looking over the half-door of a barn.
Some have contemporary notes: bright batik cloth and quilting patterns for "modern" quilts, a solid-colored background, light or dark, with a scatter of bright color.
Frasier showed images of contemporary quilts of contrasting colors and geometric patterns much like modern paintings, and vibrant quilts with a flavor of African color and design from Gee's Bend, an isolated penninsula in southern Alabama.
An art that began as a neccesary way to keep warm in the cold has grown many offshoots and new ways to play with the colors and textures of cloth. What quilting means, and what it can do, may become as flexible as the quilter's imagination.
"The more you talk, the more you learn," Jolin said.
Sewing box ...
For people new to quilting or curious about it, Karen Jolin and Susan Frasier recommend starting small with a project you can finish without getting discouraged. They also suggest taking a class or talking to a friend. Karen's Quilting Corner
Where: 857 Cold Spring Road, Route 7, Williamstown
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Closed Tuesday
Classes: Open sewing sessions Dec. 8, noon to 4 p.m., and Dec. 12, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
Information: For full schedule see www.karensquiltcorner.com
(413) 884-6200, email@example.com
Where: 58 West Center St., Route 20, Lee
Hours: Monday to Saturday,
10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Classes: Hand applique Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Wednesday morning sewing 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Information: For full schedule and holiday classes, see www.pumpkinpatchquilts.com
(413) 243-1635, firstname.lastname@example.org
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