Not your grandmother’s quilting bee

The Martha’s Vineyard Modern Quilt Guild is making quilting cool again.

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Katherine Long designed this dragon and castle themed marriage quilt for her niece, which hangs in her home. — Stacey Rupolo

On alternating Wednesdays and Thursdays, the West Tisbury library meeting room hums with quiet conversation as nine members of the Martha’s Vineyard Modern Quilt Guild (MVMQG) lean over quilting projects in their laps. These are not your grandmother’s quilts, however. The MVMQG’s quilts are comprised of highly intricate geometric designs that can be likened to pieces of art or stories told through fabric with bright colors, kaleidoscopic patterns, and abstract motifs.

The MVMQG came into being three years ago, when Kathleen Peltier, Linda Chapman, and Katherine Long wanted to create a space for quilters of all backgrounds and experience levels. They connected with the Modern Quilt Guild, which is a national organization founded by a group of Los Angeles quilters in 2009, and created a Vineyard chapter. Since its founding, the Martha’s Vineyard guild has blossomed from 14 to 34 members. Like the Island’s population, the number of people at the meetings flexes with the seasons. The core group of winter quilters hovers around 15 people.

The group’s website welcomes quilters of all kinds to join them at their weekly meetings, with the caveat, “Although our name is the Martha’s Vineyard Modern Quilt Guild, it is important to know that our view of ‘modern’ is quilting post-1850.”

“I think that we all use sort of modern techniques in the way that we cut fabric and piece it,” said Ms. Nierenberg. “Some of us use traditional patterns and fabrics, but some of us use new things.”

The group’s larger mission is to preserve and grow the quilting community through teaching and sharing, though any member will tell you it’s simply nice to sit next to someone when you’re up to your elbows in fabric. The group setting provides a space for the quilters to sit among friends while actively creating a family heirloom or trying out a new sewing technique.

As many fiber enthusiasts will tell you, the gratification of being together while quilting, knitting, or crocheting something can sometimes surpass the physical act of creating — especially in the wintertime, when you can go whole days without seeing another person if you put your mind to it.

Ms. Nierenberg mentions a quilt that member Julia Burgess is working on, which is a sampler quilt with different kinds of squares. “I looked at that and I thought, ‘Wow, that is really stunning. If I worked on that, how would I do it differently and how would I do it the same?’” Ms. Nierenberg said. “We play off each other. You see what other people are doing and bringing in to show, and that’s the best part — the show and tell.”

“We all love what we do, and so we love to do it together at the same time,” Ms. Nierenberg said. “I think it’s also a vehicle to get us together with people we love spending time with.”

Most of what the quilters do at the meetings is not technically quilting, which is the act of connecting batting in between two swaths of fabric. This step of the process usually requires a sewing machine. Transporting a sewing machine from home to the library is not only complicated but also time-consuming, so many sewers bring projects that are in the beginning or end stages of fabrication.

There are many moments within a quilt’s construction where there is need for tiny stitches, plenty of patience, and a friend nearby to break the tedium of pulling a needle in and out of the same square. The two-hour meetings pass with intermittent silences as people home their attention in on a particularly tricky corner or seam, but the silence is always interrupted by warm conversation.

Co-founder Ms. Nierenberg, one of the senior quilters of the group, has been quilting for more than 10 years. When she was living outside Philadelphia, a curiosity for quilting led her to the local library, where she checked out every book on quilting. She would sometimes sit on the floor and read the stacks of books around her. After exhausting the library’s collection, she joined the Sew Whats, a group that taught Ms. Nierenberg the foundation of quilting.

“I’m taken aback by people asking me to show them how to do things,” Ms. Nierenberg said. “I’m not a novice, but certainly not an expert. I think we’re all of the same ilk. There are some people who are newer to it, but everyone is doing very good work.”

She leads some of the MVMQG’s Saturday gatherings at the Oak Bluffs library. These afternoons are dedicated to learning a new technique, such as how to incorporate color theory into your quilt, or making a singular project, like an ornament.

Ms. Long, the group’s president, is another prolific quilter in the group. She is the type of person whose hands like to be busy all the time. She has a background in fiber arts, and came to quilting six years ago after weaving, knitting, and crocheting for many years. She wears a welcoming smile on her face as she oversees the group she helped create.

“My plan is to make a quilt for every one of my grandbabies,” Ms. Long said.

She is currently working on a fantastic marriage quilt for one of her nieces that is dragon-and castle-themed. The dragon squares resemble stained glass in the way that sharp angles cut through the design.

“I think there are a lot of people on-Island who want to learn how to quilt but don’t know how to get started,” Ms. Long said. “Some people have sewing backgrounds or don’t know how to sew, but want to learn. We’re trying to figure out how to best teach people how to quilt and how to up the group’s quilting skills at the same time.”

The group has enough planned in the upcoming months to keep long time members and newbies entertained. In January, they will have a seminar on making Valentine hearts and how to do curved sewing for quilts at the Oak Bluffs Library. Their regular weekly meetings will begin again after the new year.

“Even if they don’t have something to work on, people will sometimes come to hang out and catch up with friends,” Ms. Nierenberg said.

Once you join the MVMQG, it seems, there’s always a spot for you at the table.

The MVMQG meets every week on alternating Wednesdays and Thursdays at the West Tisbury Library and accepts members of all experience levels — even beginners. For more information, visit mvmodernquiltguild.org or contact guild president Katherine Long at mvquiltkat@gmail.com or 508-274-0930.