By Brenda Tollett
ADA — For centuries, quilts have served as a source of warmth on a cold winter night. However, quilt making has developed into an expression of art.
"Quilts used to be a necessity. Now they are also an art," said Janna Kelley, OSU extension educator for Pontotoc County.
According to Breneman's "America's Quilting History," early settlers to America brought their quilting skills with them. New fabric was not easy to obtain, so fabric for clothing and quilts was used and reused.
The patchwork quilt was born from recycling scraps of cloth. Fabric was cut into geometric patterns that fit together into larger blocks of a design.
Patterns were passed from one generation to the next and shared among friends. Names of particular patterns may have changed from one location to another, reflecting the environment.
Quilt making skills were passed from parent to child, beginning at a very young age. The child would start with a small patch of fabric and learn to sew the fine stitches needed for elaborate quilts.
In addition to bed coverings, quilts were also used as wall hangings. The wall hangings kept out the cold air and also served as a form of decoration.
Quilts were rumored to be used as a means of communication among enslaved African Americans for location of safe houses, escape routes and survival on the Underground Railroad.
Quilt patterns often depict political statements. An example is the Drunkard's Path, a block favored by the supporters of the Temperance movement. The pattern is meant to represent a "drunkard's staggering walk."
Large hoops may be used in quilting. Quilt frames, hung from the ceiling to keep the quilt out of the way when not being worked on, were often used by individuals and group quilting.
Quilting bees were opportunities for women to work on quilts, share recipes and socialize with others in the community.
Although quilt making has traditionally been practiced by women, men are learning the art. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal featured semi truck drivers who are making quilts during their down time between hauls on the road.
Local organizations continue the practice of quilt making as a group. They may work on individual projects or create quilts as donations for fund-raisers.
Busy Hands Quilt Club partners with Walmart, using their donated fabric and pattern to make quilts. The quilts are displayed at Walmart and then given to the American Red Cross for a family who has lost their home to fire.
Since beginning the program, club members have completed seven quilts this year and are working on two more.
The club also makes pillows for Valley View Regional Hospital Auxiliary's use for patients. Busy Hands also donated 42 bears to the hospital's pediatric unit and gave quilts for Relay for Life fund-raisers the past three years.
A charter member of Busy Hands Quilt Guild, Sally Bowers said quilting is not a lost art. In 1991, she asked to teach a quilting class at East Central University.
From that class of seven women, Busy Hands Quilt Club was born.
Busy Hands Quilt Club meets the first Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at Harmony Free Will Baptist Church, 224 SE County Road in Ada.
Vanoss Home and Community Education Club and Pontotoc County 4-H Club members also contribute to quilt making projects in the county each year.
About 25 years ago, Pontotoc County Home Demonstration Clubs (now known as Pontotoc County Home and Community Education Clubs) held its first quilt show.
"Over the past seven years, the show has grown from the back rooms of the agri-plex with quilts draped across chairs sitting on tables, to the Pontotoc County Agri-plex Convention Center (1700 N. Broadway) with hundreds of quilts hanging full length from quilt racks," said Kelley. "This makes an array of colors and textures that are a sight to behold."
In 2009, Kelley said 300 quilts were displayed and more than 1,000 visitors attended the show.
The 2010 quilt show takes place April 23-24 at the agri-plex convention center. Vendors from around Oklahoma will be on hand with everything needed to start quilting.
The event is open to the public from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Friday, April 23; and 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday, April 24. Admission is $2.
Demonstrations will be conducted hourly.
Quilts may be entered Wednesday, April 21, from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. in the OSU extension office kitchen located in the agri-plex. Fifteen categories are open for entries that will be judged and prizes awarded.
"Quilts may also be entered for show and not have them judged," Kelley said.
A queen-size quilt, handmade by OHCE members, will be given away in a raffle at 4 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $1 each or 6 for $5 and available at the door.
OHCE club members are preparing stew, beans an corn bread for lunch. Cost of a plate lunch is $5.
For more information about entering the show, contact the OSU Extension Center at 580-332-2153.