Quilting becomes more popular with every stitch

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, September 6, 2013

JANESVILLE—McKenna Bennett, 9, Janesville, stitched together pink and blue cotton pieces on a 1949 Singer Featherweight sewing machine while her grandmother Donna Bennett, Johnstown Center, sat close by offering quilting tips.

"We're working on a corner candy shop pattern twin-size quilt," Donna said.

Nearby, Marilyn Burki, Janesville, sat at one of two tables pushed together in Room 110 of Cargill United Methodist Church, where she pulled material scraps from a donation container and precisely cut strips and squares of fabric into four sizes.

The three are part of Goshen Quilters that began making quilts for a local children's home 18 years ago. Today, they make quilts to benefit many people, including foster children to victims of natural disasters. Lynda Short, Janesville, started the group that meets every Monday morning.

The popularity of quilting has mushroomed and along with it wholesalers who sell quilting supplies--threads, pins, seam rippers, scissors, rulers, patterns and books, she said.

According to Quilts Inc., the United States has more than 21 million active quilters. Their interest drives quilt shows, workshops and conferences.

"Quilting is an industry, now. It's crazy," Short said.

The resurgence of the craft happened in conjunction with the U.S. bicentennial celebration in 1976, she said.

"Women quilted, but not to the scale they're doing now," she said,

Quilting organizations began around the same time Short established a local quilters guild in 1983.

Short started quilting in the mid 1960s. While owning and operating a Janesville yarn and needle store, she began carrying quilt fabrics.

Short founded the Rock Valley Quilters Guild that has grown from 35 to 200 members in 32 years. She was an executive member of the now defunct Wisconsin Quilters and led two different study groups within the local quilters guild. In addition, she is a member of the Friendship Study group and participates in quilting retreats, going away for the weekend to sew to her heart's content with no distractions.

The appeal of quilting is the challenge and the tradition and history of quilts, Short said.

"I love the piecing, handling the fabric, the designs and the colors. There are so many (appealing) aspects" to the craft, she said.

Short believes quilting will remain steady and strong in the future.

"As long as you have that support in the industry and the availability, people are still going to be doing it,” she said. “Even during the Depression and recession they may not have found money for entertainment, but they found it for quilting."

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