Spring 2015 Feature Story: North Country Quilting Guild

A stitch in time

North Country Quilting Guild members, from left, include Harriet McMillan, Laura Davis, Dot Foley-Persons, Patty Randall and Laura Little. The guild began in 1985 as a class at the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, Watertown. Photo by Norm Johnston, NNY Living.

North Country Quilting Guild members, from left, include Harriet McMillan, Laura Davis, Dot Foley-Persons, Patty Randall and Laura Little. The guild began in 1985 as a class at the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, Watertown. Photo by Norm Johnston, NNY Living.

North Country Quilting Guild marks 30-year anniversary

By Lorna Oppedisano, NNY Living 

Every quilt tells a story. Stitched into those three layers of fiber are the details of an artist’s life.

“It’s my creative outlet,” Laura Little, local artist and owner of Just Threads, Watertown, said. “Part of it is what I’m going to leave behind.”

Mrs. Little ventured into the world of quilting about 30 years ago. She was just winging it, she said, until she heard that a group of quilters was meeting. She went, and has been going back ever since.

These were the early days of the North Country Quilting Guild.

“I think it is wonderful that we have an organization in Watertown that for 30 years has existed,” Mrs. Little said, “and we have remained vital in all those 30 years.”

The guild began as a class at Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, and has now evolved into a group of about 100 quilters who meet every month to share projects and discuss techniques. The guild hosts a biennial quilting show at Jefferson Community College; last summer’s boasted almost 300 pieces. As a member of the Quilters Consortium of New York State, the guild is known for bringing high profile quilters to the area to lecture and teach classes. And each month, the guild members collect donations of quilts, fabric and toiletries to donate to the Victims Assistance Center and the Children’s Home of Jefferson County as part of their “sharing and caring” program.

“What I like most is the community of quilters and the fellowship of quilters,” Mrs. Little said. “Quilting is part of my lifestyle.”

Quilts come in all shapes, styles and mediums, and have the potential to bring together entire communities.

The Hammond Barn Quilting Trail is a project aimed to enhance the town and improve tourism in St. Lawrence County, local artist Mary B. Knapp said. The end goal is to have 50 painted quilt squares affixed to barns for the public to see; several should be up and running up June, Mrs. Knapp said.

“Most of them are age old patterns,” Mrs. Knapp said, “and it’s a way of documenting some of these patterns and bringing a little bit of life and fun into the outer reaches of rural areas.”

Barn quilt trails are part of a country-wide movement, she said, describing the art as essentially murals that can appeal to all ages. While there’s an obvious difference between barn quilts and traditional quilts — the medium — the same basic principles apply to both.

“It’s just a way to express yourself,” she said. “That’s how I feel on fabric or on wood. And I think everybody needs that in their life.”

Like Mrs. Little, Mrs. Knapp had been sewing long before she tried her hand at quilting. About 40 years ago, she started with a quilt for her son, completed a few “hit or miss” projects, as she called them, and has never looked back.

“I like traditional work, good quality work,” she said, “but I like to put a modern spin on it.”

Her work has won awards and been featured in shows and on the cover of Roger Cooke’s “History of Mathematics” text book. She’s taught classes and led workshops. She makes her own fabric. She wrote the book on quilting, literally; in February 2013, her first book, “Star Quilts,” was published.

By this point, Mrs. Knapp has created about 200 pieces, she said. Even after all her work and experience, she doesn’t have one favorite style.

“I get bored if I do the same thing,” she said with a laugh.

Despite her accolades, Mrs. Knapp stressed that her quilts are to be held, not just admired from a distance.

“My idea is to use them in my lifetime,” she said. “And after I die, I don’t care if they’re faded and rotten. I want to enjoy them.”

Quilting holds a different significance for everyone. Sometimes, it’s therapy.

“It’s a drug,” Melanie J. Kimbler-Lago, local artist and Watertown Daily Times staff photographer, said. “It’s my addiction.”

Ms. Kimbler-Lago began quilting about 11 years ago when her mother-in-law bought her a sewing machine.

“She was trying to domesticate me, I guess,” she joked.

She started off with “Quilting For Dummies,” made “this awful quilt,” as she reminisced, and after that, she was hooked.

Ms. Kimbler-Lago doesn’t belong to a guild, but she does get together with a group of fellow quilters twice a month. When they started meeting, they were at difficult points in their lives.

“Quilting is kind of a healing type thing,” she explained.

Their art helped them mend, and then stayed with them. Ms. Kimbler-Lago’s group follows the more traditional techniques, but she describes her work as “free flowing.” She’s inspired by everything from Pinterest to other people’s work to nature: anything she gravitates towards in normal life, she said. And from a project’s birth to its completion, it usually evolves.

“Whatever I start out planning on doing, it doesn’t end up being that,” she said.

Ms. Kimbler-Lago said her favorite part of quilting is buying the fabric. It stirs ideas, and there’s no such thing as too much of it, despite her husband’s views on the subject, she said with a laugh.

What started out as a therapeutic pastime has become a huge part of Ms. Kimbler-Lago’s life. She usually quilts every night after work.

“It’s a creative outlet, plus a social activity,” she said. “It’s the best of addictions.”

For many, quilting is a means to express creativity while also creating something that is long-lasting. Photo by Norm Johnston, NNY Living.

For many, quilting is a means to express creativity while also creating something that is long-lasting. Photo by Norm Johnston, NNY Living.

Lorna Oppedisano is a staff writer and editorial assistant for NNY magazines. Contact her at loppedisano@wdt.net or 661-2381.