The first Quilted Things and Apron Strings show in 1998 really started because a group of quilters decided to have a day where they all shared their finished quilts and enjoyed a cup of tea together.

“Then we thought, well, maybe somebody else might like to see it,” recalled organizer Mary Ann Wilson.

Apparently, they did enjoy it. This would have been the 22nd year for Quilted Things and Apron Strings, presented by the In Stitches and Stitch ‘n Go quilt groups. The bi-yearly quilt show presents more than 200 quilts by local quilters. Most of the items are hand-pieced and hand-quilted, meaning that a sewing machine is not used for the stitching.

However, the event was canceled due to concerns over the Coronavirus.

“Lots of hand-quilting. That’s what makes us different,” Wilson said.

The first Quilted Things and Apron Strings show in 1998 inspired member Connie Taylor, who came to the show with a few friends. She joined the quilting group’s weekly meetups quickly after, inspired to learn the more traditional methods of hand-quilting.

“I was just so impressed,” Taylor said of her first quilt show. “I had made quilts before but never like this.”

Over the years, the Quilted Things and Apron Strings show has evolved to include a soup, salad and homemade roll lunch, as well as raffles, quilts for sale and a general store. This year’s event will also offer demonstrations in hand quilting, hand applique and pot holder quilts.

Each Quilted Things and Apron Strings show includes at least one featured quilter. This year’s featured quilter, Susy Carpenter, will have about 40 quilts on display. Carpenter joined the quilting group in 1989 when her family first moved to Lewis County. The former home economics teacher was looking to meet other people so she went looking for fabric stores and found Sisters in Chehalis. Though she had only sewn garments before, she picked up a kit to make a quilt block and, though she had to have a little help with the seam allowances on her first try, was instantly hooked.

“For me, it’s not how fast I can get it done,” Carpenter said. “I enjoy the process.”

One of the highlights of Carpenter’s body of work is her use of hand-applique. One of her quilts on display at the show will be an example of Broderie Perse, an applique technique from the 17th Century where printed elements are cut out of the pattern of one fabric and used to construct an applique shape on another background. 

Another vintage technique that will be on display in Carpenter’s works is Welsh Quilting, a type of hand-quilting that uses traditional Welsh patterns in the quilting stitches, usually incorporating traditional symbols such as feathers and leaves. One quilt, featuring Welsh Quilting, is a wedding gift to one of her sons and his wife and was hand sewn and designed by Carpenter. She meticulously hand-drew the intricate quilting pattern onto the entire piece and then hand stitched it. As to how she picks up these older quilting techniques, Carpenter said it is the quilting group members who pass on the traditions to one another.

“I have taken a few classes but mostly, it’s just experimentation. Word of mouth. Somebody knows how to do this,” Carpenter said.

The joy of learning together is what has kept these quilting groups together for so many years, members said. As a quilting group, they pride themselves on being inclusive and welcoming and discouraging talk or gossip is never uttered. In this circle, finished quilts are celebrated in song because they all understand what an accomplishment a finished piece is. 

“It’s the people. It really is,” Wilson said of the group members. “They’re the most caring people.”

Another highlight of the Quilted Things and Apron Strings show is what is called bed turning, where a single quilter stacks a bed with multiple quilts they have made. As they pull back each layer to reveal the next quilt, they tell the story of their creations. This year’s bed turning will be by Rick Sundstrom. Sundstrom was also inspired by the first Quilted Things and Apron Strings in 1998. A friend of Wilson and her late husband, Larry, Sundstrom helped with the setup for the very first quilt show and said seeing the quilts sparked something in him.

“I’m thinking, you know, I think I can do that. It looked fascinating,” Sundstrom recalled. 

For a number of years, Sundstrom and Larry Wilson would often quilt together, often working on pieces while sitting in front of a televised sporting event. A former Army Reservist, Sundstrom said he also passed the time while traveling to different destinations by bringing along his quilt pieces. One of bed turning pieces, a red and tan “sweet insanity” quilt, is dubbed the Iraq quilt because it was started in 2011 when he was stationed in Iraq, though just completed this year. It is the effort, Sundstrom said, that keeps him going back to his projects year after year.

“I enjoy the time it takes,” he said.

The In Stitches and Stitch ‘n Go quilt groups have about 20-25 active members, though they are always looking for new members, especially young quilters, to join their Tuesday afternoon meetups. All of the proceeds from the upcoming quilt show will be donated to the Centralia Christian School. Wilson said that the group has donated more than $50,000 to the school over the years. The donation is in appreciation for the school offering its facility to the quilting group free of cost year-round. Wilson said they even hold quilt retreats at the Centralia school, which means members can go home at night and do not have to pay lodging costs usually associated with quilting retreats.

“We don’t have to pay money to go to retreats. We can buy fabric,” Wilson quipped.

The Quilted Things and Apron Strings event usually draws about 500 visitors over the two-day period it is held. Wilson said they believe numbers could be down this year because of recent developments regarding the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But she said there have not been any developments in Lewis County that have led them to believe they should cancel the quilt show. Besides, she said, the quilters have worked so hard and raising money for the Christian School is too great a cause.

“We’re going to follow through with it unless something really big comes along,” Wilson said.

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