Patchwork Organized

There’s almost always something going on with Umpqua Valley Quilters’ Guild, but the organization ramps up its activity this time of year in preparation for its 35th annual public show.

Story by Jim Hays, Photos by Tristin Godsey

For three days beginning Friday, April 20, Douglas Hall at the Douglas County Fairgrounds will be transformed into Quilting Central with Umpqua Valley Quilters’ Guild’s 35th public show. The annual expo has grown into the biggest conclave of quilters and their craft in Southern Oregon.

This year’s show, billed as “Dreaming of Diamonds,” will attract quilters from Washington, Idaho, Northern California and elsewhere — in addition to UVQG members and others from around Oregon.  

Show chair Corrine Woodward expects more than 300 items of many types will be exhibited and judged in some 23 categories and age groups. Those include not just traditional quilts such as bedspreads and wall art, but also totes, bowls and whatever else a quilter’s imagination and skill can produce. 

The result will be a three-day celebration of bold colors, eye-catching graphics, breath-taking artistry and exquisite craftsmanship.

Colleen Blackwood, a well-known quilt artist, designer and teacher from Pendleton, will be the 2018 show’s Featured Quilter. In addition, attendees can take part in classes, workshops and a variety of quilt-related activities — whether they’re just getting started or are long-timers looking to expand their skills.

Guild member Linda Garmon, much admired for being both innovative in technique and prolific in production, will be this year’s Honored Quilter and will demonstrate and teach from a booth at the show.

The guild and its officers take pride in the size and quality of their annual show aand the significant benefits its estimated 1,000 visitors will bring a the local economy. But that’s only part of their story. It’s their less-noted community service projects that give guild members perhaps their greatest satisfaction.

The third Tuesday of each month, from September through May, is a “Sew Day” for the guild. It’s one of three monthly meetings. The other two deal with guild business and often feature presentations on different aspects of the craft such as discussions of new techniques.

“We’re always learning from each other,” Woodward says.  

In a meeting room behind Garden Valley Church, near the west end of the Roseburg boulevard of the same name, some 30 members of the guild measure and cut pieces of fabric, stitch together the pieces on sewing machines to form blocks or run an iron over them to get rid of any stray wrinkles or creases. Meanwhile, sitting in folding chairs, two members work on woolen appliqués the time-tested way — with needle and thread. 

Yet another set of quilts is getting started. Some are designed as personal projects for friends and family, such as member Shirley Pyle’s “T-shirt” quilt, assembled from a friend’s collection of souvenir shirts and made to commemorate his experiences over a lifetime.

Then there’s Woodward’s ambitious, epic 10-foot-square work telling Oregon’s story visually through intricate piecing and stitching. Included are quilted examples of the state’s mountain peaks, rivers, oceans and wildlife sewn with an intricacy that rewards close inspection. The quilt required 18 months of work, but Woodward pointed out that she did most of it between assignments for the custom quilting business she operates out of her home.

Guild members’ personal projects are completed — often collaboratively, with suggestions and insights from other members — in tandem with the group’s extensive service works.

Providing comfort to those in need is something the guild’s roughly 130 dues-paying members have been doing since the group basted its first layers back in 1982. Beginning last September through the end of 2017, for example, the guild created and gave away nearly 100 quilts to community organizations such as Healthy Start, Adapt, Family Development Center, shelters for homeless women and children, Camp Millennium, Quilts of Valor and Mercy Medical Center. 

In 2015, the quilters welcomed home the Roseburg-based Oregon Army National Guard Charlie Company from a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan by presenting each of the returning Guardsmen with a patriotic-themed quilt commemorating their service. 

It’s painstaking work that requires an artist’s creativity and design instincts, plus an engineer’s technical know-how and precision. 

Despite the need for focus and attention to detail, however, it’s clear the guild’s members have plenty of fun, too. It’s impossible to ignore the laughter that often erupts from the quilters in a sewing session that is as much social as it is work.

“It’s nice to be able to bring people together,” says current guild president Donna Scully.  


A Centuries-Old Tradition

At its most basic, a quilt is layered fabric with front and back covers sewn together around a core of padding. Crosshatched stitching keeps the core material from bunching up and maintains its shape. 

“You’re basically making a fabric sandwich,” says Shirley Pyle (above), who started quilting after she retired from her 35-year career at the Oregon Department of Employment, including several years as manager of its Roseburg office. “You have a front and a back and in between is the batting.”

The craft is thought to have originated in ancient Egypt, but was introduced in Europe in the 12th century. The oldest known existing quilt dates to the late 1300s and is made of linen around cotton wadding and embroidered with brown and white linen thread depicting battles, castles and ships. As European civilization expanded, so did quilting, and as the craft was introduced to successive cultures around the world, each adapted it and over time created its own particular style — such as Hawaiian, South Asian and Native American.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is home to some 21 million quilters — about 7 percent of the population.

Quilting has become more popular over the years partly because of advances in technology. Newer, more versatile machines and tools, plus the development of computer software aimed specifically at quilters have made the craft more accessible than ever for those just getting into it. 

2018 Umpqua Valley Quilters’ Guild Show

WHEN: Friday - Sunday, April 20-22.
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Douglas Hall, Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2110 Frear St., Roseburg