Treat your eyes to a glorious and joyful exhibit stitched together by the Wayside Quilters Guild, now on display at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell. Since opening in 1987, this gem of a museum has displayed fine traditional and contemporary quilts in the historic center of the nation’s textile industry. It is a beautiful space to visit.
LOWELL – Treat your eyes to a glorious and joyful exhibit stitched together by the Wayside Quilters Guild, now on display at the New England Quilt Museum.
Rectangles of color, patterns and rich textures, the 24 quilts created by members of the Sudbury-based crafters portray landscapes and abstractions. Some are original while others are created from traditional patterns of repetition and geometry. Step close and see an amazing matrix of intricate needlework; step back and see colors move and new patterns emerge.
A quick lesson from Pam Weeks, curator of the New England Quilt Museum: “A quilt has three layers: a top, a middle and a backing. Officially it is held together with stitching.” The top can be decorated with individual pieces of fabric sewn together or with pieces of fabric appliqued directly onto one large background piece.
“There are lots of other ways to decorate quilt tops. Some quilts are painted. There is photo transfer, but most of the quilts in this exhibit are done pretty traditionally with either piecing or applique for the decoration,” said Weeks.
The Wayside Guild was chosen to exhibit in this show because one quilt made by member Marianne Hatton was voted the Viewer’s Choice award in the museum’ 2019 Summer Celebration of New England Quilts.
Hatton’s entry, “Perennially Patchwork,” is an original design inspired by her garden in Sudbury. The vibrant palette with brilliant dashes of color evokes Claude Monet’s impressionist paintings of his garden at Giverny in France. And Hatton has accomplished this, not with paintbrush strokes but with small hexagon-shaped pieces of fabric, meticulously hand-sewn together and then hand quilted.
“My hexagon quilt grew out of the fact that I had a grandmother and mother who both had made quilts in that style. And it became a special piece for me. It really linked me to them,” said Hatton, in a telephone interview.
Typically the hexagon style is pieced together geometrically, but the random piecing adaptation that Hatton utilized created a more contemporary look.
“The hexagon is a very old technique that goes back to the 18th century,” said Laura Lane, the collections manager at the New England Quilt Museum and a member of the Wayside guild from Marlborough. “Marianne has done it in a much more modern way. Her mother’s and her grandmother’s quilts made in the hexagon pattern were very different and reflective of the periods they were made.”
The guild meets in Sudbury but draws members from Marlborough, Framingham, Wayland, Acton and even out to Worcester, said Lane. They come from all walks of life. There are educators, a dentist, an interior decorator, a musician, a retired speech pathologist. What they have in common is a passion for the craft and the art of quilting.
The guild provides a space for experienced quilters to share techniques and for newer quilters to learn, experiment and hone their skills. There are approximately 60 members who typically meet monthly at the Sudbury Grange Hall on Concord Road. The group has adapted to the pandemic by meeting remotely via the Zoom conferencing app. There are workshops and “show and tell” for members to share what they have been working on.
Before the pandemic, the guild held Saturday morning drop-in sessions for members who like to sew together. They also hold an annual quilting retreat in western Massachusetts. Ongoing community outreach and charitable activities are core to the organization.
Wayside Quilters Guild President Pat Luken, of Marlborough, is a self-taught quilter. “It was 1974 during the gas crisis when they closed college and I had to go home… So I took books out of the library to learn how to finish a quilt top that had been left by my great grandmother. She passed away before she could finish it. That was my first quilt. I loved it. I continued to quilt, but it was always very solitary for me because I was always working.”
Luken made herself a promise that the first thing she would do once she retired would be to join the guild. “That was the best move ever,” said Luken. “It has been eye opening learning from humans! It has taken quilting from being something I did all by myself to being something I do with a group. It’s just been the best.”
What keeps Luken quilting after so many years? “It’s great brain exercise. Especially the piecing part requires a lot of mental gymnastics. It is great to be stimulated and have my brain working so hard to figure things out,” she said.
Josee Vachon, of Framingham, has only been quilting for a few years. About seven years ago she was living in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, which is known for its quilt shows.
“It was never something that attracted me but by going to these local quilt shows I thought, ‘I think I’d like to try that.’ ” She took a class with a Mennonite quilter and made a simple table runner.
“I enjoyed the process. I had tried oil painting and watercolors and ceramics but at some point I discovered that this was the medium I really loved,” said Vachon.
Once she moved to Framingham she happened to see a quilt show sponsored by the Wayside Quilters Guild. Vachon continued, “I was blown away by the variety of quilts. Not just the traditional quilts that I tended to see in Pennsylvania. There were art quilts and contemporary geometric designs. I love the variety here!
“And during the pandemic it is the perfect hobby. It keeps me focused. It is relaxing and therapeutic,” said Vachon.
And it has changed how she sees the world. Vachon added, “I found I never looked at things this way before. I will see a pattern and think that could be a block, or I see a landscape and think how I can create that with the right fabrics… that is all part of the pleasure that keeps me wanting to do this.”
Tica de Moor lives in Wayland now but she grew up in South Africa. Her father imported textiles and she benefited from a childhood that included suitcases stuffed with fabric samples that were too small for big projects but perfect for cutting up into smaller pieces.
“I love fabric and I love to be able to communicate through fabric,” said de Moor.
“Baobab Spirits,” de Moor’s art quilt about the beauty of Africa, is on exhibit in the show. “It is about the complexity of the landscape. The interaction between nature and the people who live there,” said de Moor.
All of the quilting stitches were done by hand on this project. “Hand quilting, the stitches that you see holding all three layers together, is very laborious but it is also a meditative process. There is nothing fast about it, but it is very rewarding,” said de Moor.
“But I think that quilts have not historically been given the attention they deserve and that is because quilts have always been associated with bedding and women’s homecraft.” De Moor added, “and to get people to think of quilts as an artform has taken an enormous amount of time for that leap to happen. So that has been gratifying to see over the years. I still think it has a way to go, but it has come a long way.
For much of history quilts were merely functional objects made for warmth created by ordinary people out of repurposed dresses, work clothes or feedbags. At other times quilts were the domain of the wealthy who had leisure time to devote to the decorative arts. Today quilts are as varied as the people who create them.
The New England Quilt Museum is a gem. Since opening in 1987, it has displayed fine traditional and contemporary quilts, in the historic center of the nation’s textile industry. It is a beautiful space to visit and enjoy the work of the Wayside Quilters Guild.
‘Deeds Not Words: Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage’
Also on view at the New England Quilt Museum through Sept. 26 is an invitational exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave the women the right to vote.
Co-curated by Pam Weeks of the New England Quilt Museum and Sandra Sider of the Texas Quilt Museum, this exhibit brings together new works by 28 award-winning artists from across the country.
Most of these quilts are representational, prominently featuring the individuals who struggled tirelessly to procure legal rights and the vote for women.
Some of the faces on the quilts are familiar suffragettes. Many are lesser known figures who were significant contributors to the movement. Some of the individuals depicted have been historically overlooked because of racism.
The works were all recently created and make full use of digital printing and a variety of other techniques new to quilting. Printers loaded with dye instead of ink have been used to print on fabric. Many of the quilts contain text. Some contain a lot of text. There are also unconventional items utilized in the making of these quilts. One in particular is waiting to be discovered in the quilt portrait of activist and philanthropist, Katharine Dexter McCormick.
Don’t hesitate to get close, spend time, and really look at the details. There are rewards for those who do. It is a fun way to learn more about the women’s suffrage movement than you ever learned in school.