Berkshires quilters share their pride

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PITTSFIELD — On one table, there was a tower of toilet paper rolls. On several others, there were stacks of folded, colorful, patterned fabrics.

The contrast in decor toward the back of a second-floor room at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center was jarring on Tuesday night. But the table arrangements at the latest Yankee Pride Quilter's Guild monthly meeting were borne from the same charitable spirit. The paper goods would mostly go to St. Joseph's Church in Pittsfield. The more aesthetically pleasing items were members' leftover materials that, in many cases, would be used to make quilts headed to Child Care of the Berkshires' Healthy Families Program.

Yankee Pride isn't the only guild in the county that can take satisfaction in helping others; the other two quilters' guilds in Berkshire County — Berkshire Quilter's Guild in Great Barrington and Friendship Knot Quilters Guild in Williamstown — also make giving a priority at their events.

"It's all a strong component [of the guilds]," said Cheshire resident Betty King, a member of all three groups, of the clubs' charitable efforts at the Pittsfield guild's meeting on Tuesday night.

Yankee Pride, which has about 50 members and meets on the third Tuesday of every month (except in July), is aiming to donate 100 quilts to Healthy Families in December. Last year, they gave 94. In 2016, they provided an even 100.

Pittsfield resident Helen Kimpel has been a part of the guild for all of those years and then some. Kimpel joined Yankee Pride shortly after it was formed in 1984.

"It's just a group of ladies got together, and they were interested in sewing," Kimpel said during a telephone interview before the Tuesday meeting.

Kimpel had "always" sewed, but it wasn't until the early 1980s that she started quilting. As a process, quilting involves sewing multiple pieces of fabric together, typically with "batting" in between them to provide another layer of warmth. The term "quilting" also refers to the stitching pattern that binds these layers.

For Kimpel, the most difficult part "is getting all the pieces to line up perfectly," she said. Since some misalignment is inevitable, learning how to work around mistakes is critical, she added.

Size is also a factor. Like many at Yankee Pride, Kimpel has made bed-sized quilts, wall quilts and baby quilts. The guild's monthly sessions sometimes include workshops to hone different skills, such as successfully completing different prescribed patterns. (Some quilters form their own patterns, but published ones are more common.)

On Tuesday night, there were no demonstrations. New guild co-presidents Linda Smothers and Mary Kay Kasuba ran their first meeting together, helping the group brainstorm some events for the year ahead. (A session with Northampton quilter Linda Warren may be on agenda.) The highlight of the night, however, was show-and-tell. One by one, some of the 27 women in attendance (there were no men) walked to the front of the room and held up recent creations.

Winter and wildlife were themes, with a moose and snowflakes, for instance, meriting depictions. King hoisted multiple quilts with snowmen, though she was particularly proud of a floral quilt consisting of appliques, or smaller pieces of fabric attached to larger pieces. King's appliques were made out of wool.

"Most people follow a pattern, and these are all put on by hand. ... You don't see a lot of people doing applique because it's so time-consuming," King said.

When she's not at guild meetings, King teaches quilting and produces "a tremendous amount" of quilts. She has assisted many members in Yankee Pride, too.

"Betty is such a resource," Smothers said.

Support is woven into the fabric of this group. Anybody is welcome to join. (The annual membership fee is $20; it's $3 per meeting for a guest to come.) Members regularly offer words of encouragement as presenters display their pieces.

"You make something," Smothers said, "and it's nice to have people who appreciate how much work went into it."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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