When someone tells you quilting “lights up my life. It gives me intense joy” — you tend to want to know more. For Wendy Nierenberg, the art form is a perfect mix of two passions. ”I was a math teacher. I love math. I think math is the best thing ever,” she says. “So figuring out how to marry math with color makes my heart sing. Then figuring out how to adjust the sizes and dimensions. I probably make 20 quilts a year.”
Nierenberg is part of the Martha’s Vineyard Modern Quilt Guild, which is full of folks dedicated to every small stitch required for their magnificent quilts, whether they make them for babies, weddings, wall hangings, or quilted pillows. The women behind these wonderous fiber creations gather weekly at the West Tisbury library on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 pm, and once a month at the Oak Bluffs library, to nurture their affection among friendly, like-minded creative artisans.
The guild was founded in 2014 by Linda Chapman, Katherine Long, and Kathleen Peltier. It has about 35 members, both year-round and seasonal, and about 10 to 12 at a meeting at any one time during the winter. Some have quilted for decades, and others are new to it, but they are all eager to share their knowledge.
While the women’s pieces and styles vary, they share one thing in common: Their finished products don’t tend to stay in their hands for very long. “I quilt for family, and they keep having babies,” Long says. “They have babies faster than I can keep up.” And this makes sense, given, as she says, “serious quilts take me about six to eight months. I try to do something every day, but might have dry spells and then quilt all day.”
Long, as do a few others, favors paper piecing — a technique in which you wrap and then sew fabric around small geometric paper shapes that give you nice sharp edges. When put together, the shapes create larger geometric patterns. At home she uses an antique Singer Featherweight sewing machine. “It’s a classic machine from the 1930s and ’40s,” Long says. “I like it because I can fix it myself, and it makes one of the best straight stitches ever made. And it’s very reliable and small, and there are thousands of us who think it’s the best machine ever made.”
Linda Hearn joined when the group first started some five years ago, but has quilted for a long time. “I find it quite relaxing. Sometimes it’s not relaxing at all when you have a problem, but then you have somebody help you figure it out. I enjoy working with the material. I like the feel of the material, and how it looks when it’s done,” Hearn said.
The colors and designs of the fabric can be just about anything as long as it’s 100 percent cotton. Anna Marie D’Addarie is new to quilting. “I’m a seamstress,” she says, “so I know how to sew, but quilting is a completely different kind of sewing than making a dress or jacket. For years I’ve made T shirt quilts on commission, and donated some to charity.”
In fact, the group makes a lot of pieces for charity. Last year they gave 19 quilts to the Red Stocking Fund to give as holiday gifts to kids who wouldn’t otherwise get many.
Julia Burgess works on wall hangings because, she tells me, they are smaller and easier to do. She has been quilting for four or five years, and learned from taking classes and workshops the guild offers. Her contribution to the upcoming exhibition at the West Tisbury library is on climate change, addressing fire, drought, glaciers melting, and floods.
Hers will be among the some 18 works. “You’ll see a wide range of the kind of quilts our folks make,” Long says. “Because it’s a small room, you won’t see a lot of our really large quilts. Also, many of us don’t have that many quilts because we give them away as soon as we finish.”
In terms of the group, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you work. The members all assured me of their welcoming embrace of newcomers, or as they say, they’re “user-friendly.” “I’m new, but I’m always inspired when I come,” D’Addarie says. “It’s nice to have the encouragement of everybody here. They are welcoming. If people are at all interested in quilting, this is the group they want to join, because it’s a multi-range of talent.”
Another option, if you want to get your hands on some fiber, but in a small endeavor: There’s the Guild’s Nov. 2 workshop from 10 am to 1 pm at the Oak Bluffs library on fabric ornaments, where you can learn how to make gift bags — either tiny ones that can be ornaments, or bigger ones that can be gift bags.
For inspiration, or just to see the colorful creations, come meet the women behind the exhibit at the free opening on Saturday, Nov. 2, from 3:30 to 5 pm, adorned, so to speak, with refreshments. The show runs through Nov. 30 at the West Tisbury library.
For information about the Martha’s Vineyard Modern Quilt Guild, or if you are interested in donating quilting fabric for its charity quilts, contact Katherine Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.