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Quilts for a Cause

The Delectable Mountains Quilt Guild’s Yard Square Quilt Auction celebrates a decade of charity.

by Beth Rowland

Jane Frenke started it. And, as so many of these things often go, somebody else then jumped in with their two cents worth, then somebody else, and well, the next thing you know, they’re celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Delectable Mountains Quilt Guild’s Yard Square Quilt Auction. That’s ten years of 36-inch by 36-inch quilt squares created, sewn and auctioned for a good cause in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

Now this annual auction of gorgeous, yard-square quilts is on the must-do list for folks from all over the tri-state area every Memorial Day weekend. This year’s auction will take place May 25, 2014 at the Ice House — a four-floor, yellow brick art center in the heart of Berkeley Springs, located at the corner of Independence and Mercer Streets.

Jane first got the idea while visiting friends in upstate New York, where she saw a similar concept: businesses in a small town displaying yard-square quilts, which were then auctioned to raise funds for a local cause. She saw the possibilities and brought the concept back with her to Berkeley Springs. “I thought it would be a great way for quilters in Berkeley Springs to display their art while benefiting our community,” Jane says.

Their first quilt auction was held in 2005 and included just 26 quilts. Since then, it has grown to include upwards of 45 quilts each year and has raised over $39,000 for local charities. Groups that have benefitted from the auction include the Morgan County Interfaith Emergency Council (food bank); Stepping Stones to a Bright Future (for survivors of domestic abuse); Hospice of the Panhandle; the Morgan County Library; the Senior Life Services of Morgan County; Morgan Arts Council; and the Humane Society of Morgan County. Last year’s beneficiary was Morgan County Starting Points, a community resource center for children and families, which received $4,100.

For the upcoming 10th annual auction, the Morgan County Observatory Foundation was chosen as the beneficiary. Dedicated to community education in astronomy, the Observatory is seeking to build a better home for its research-grade telescope.

The Gilded Layer

The Delectable Mountains Quilt Guild was founded over 30 years ago by a group of women who simply shared an interest in quilting. Now the Guild has over 70 members, with quilters of all levels who teach, learn, and share skills and ideas among themselves and the community. They offer quilting lessons as well as the simple joy of communal stitching; something women have gathered together to do for centuries when quilts were more utilitarian objects, providing warmth as well as decorative bedding.

At the most basic level, quilts are made by stitching layers of fabric together, usually with a layer of padding or batting in between. Once made from leftover scraps of fabric or worn out clothing, intricate patterns were developed with intriguing names like Lone Star, Birds in the Air, Log Cabin and Drunkard’s Path. There is strong evidence that quilts may even date back to ancient Egypt. Today’s quilts, however, have moved into the realm of art, with sewing techniques and fabrics that could not have even been dreamed of by earlier quilters. More than just a hobby, many quilters consider their craft a way of life.

For the auction quilts, guild members use a variety of traditional and modern quilting techniques. Some have learned a new technique or a new style, or they've taken a class from a big name in quilting circles (yes, there are “stars” in quilting!) and are experimenting with a new pattern. But they all share the enjoyment of seeing their work hanging up in town and benefitting the community.

After the guild members submit their quilts, the next step is a photo shoot where each quilt gets its “beauty shot” for publicity. Susannah Kipp, this year’s co-chair along with fellow Guild member Darlene Narango, says this is a favorite part of hers, with the “oohs” and “aahs” as the quilts are unveiled. “Then we match a quilt to an appropriate business for display,” Susannah says. “Last year we placed one in the Mexican restaurant because the colors worked so well. Another one with a large sunflower on it went to the health food store.” With such a variety of quilts offered, though, this matching process doesn’t always work out so neatly, she says with a chuckle. “But we try.”

A live auctioneer adds to the atmosphere of excitement. Sometimes bidding wars break out, driving up the costs as the auctioneer reminds everyone it’s for a good cause. Recent high bids have topped $600. Husbands have even been known to bid on their wife’s quilt, just to keep the work of art in the family.

“It’s an interesting story, how quilting has historically been looked at as 'woman's work' and maybe not as valued as it should be,” says Jane, adding, “But then you get to the auction and it becomes art and comfort and 'gotta-have' all rolled up into one beautiful piece of quilted fabric. It’s really amazing.”

For additional information, visit www.delectablemountainsquiltguild.com