Quilting season wraps community together

Fact: tomorrow is the first day of fall. It’s hard not to get a little depressed as the warm summer days shorten, our colorful gardens fade, and we swap our shorts and sandals for sweaters and boots.
But, it’s not all bad. Fall brings the delights of harvest season, pies, pumpkins, corn mazes, hay rides, warm fireplaces and cozy beds layered with quilts.
Ahh, yes, quilt season. If you’re a quilt lover, mark your calendars for the Milk and Honey Quilters Guild biennial show coming to Middlebury the first weekend of October. The guild is hoping to have close to 100 quilts on exhibit at the Middlebury Rec Center, submitted by guild members and others.
Show-goers can peruse quilts and learn about each pattern and the creator’s inspiration on the information card next to the quilt. Then take a stroll by the various quilting vendors and buy lunch from Dot D’Avignon of Taco de Town (she’ll be serving a soup lunch). Don’t forget to enter the quilt and basket raffles. Guild members thoughtfully craft each basket (valued at $50 or more), and made this year’s raffle quilt (a queen-sized quilt of a contemporary star block made from batik fabrics in vibrant colors).
“Janice (Gould) and myself volunteered to organize for the raffle quilt committee,” said Emmy Alford, a New York native who came to Vermont for the skiing in 1972, and has been a guild member for 25 years. “We held a one-day workshop;  we had seven or eight members get together in The Quilters’ Corner workroom. We had three sewing machines going, an ironer and runners… It was quilted by one of our members Andre Emmel.”
The quilt raffle winner will be drawn at end of show on Sunday. You don’t have to be there to win. Tickets are $2 each, or three for $5.
If you’re feeling generous, buy an ornament and gift card holder (or a few) that guild members have made — all the money benefits Everybody Wins! Vermont, a literary-based mentoring program for elementary school children.
“For every quilt show the guild chooses a different local nonprofit organization to help; community giving is a wonderful part of being in the guild,” said Lynn Blagden, guild member and organizer of this year’s fundraiser.
Other funds raised from the raffles and from the $5 door admission ($4 if your a guild member) supports the guild. The guild, which was established in the 1970s didn’t have membership dues until 2008. Then the group decided to adopt bylaws and collect $10 a year from members.
“With that money we hire speakers throughout the year,” Alford explained. “They bring a lot of new ideas; it makes meetings very interesting.”
The guild meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month, from 7-9 p.m., at the American Legion building in Middlebury. All are welcome.
“We have members of all ages and abilities,” added Alford, adding they are trying to encourage younger members. In fact, new at this year’s show will be projects made by local children aged 8-16. “If you’ve just got the bug, it’s a great place to come and learn. We all love to share.”
That’s certainly true. The 51-members of the guild each have a different style and favor certain techniques, which makes it fertile ground for learning. To showcase the different varieties of quilting, this year’s show will feature work by Phyllis Bowdish and Rachel Eldredge — two quilters at opposite ends of quilting-extremes.
Bowdish has lived in Weybridge her whole life. She grew up on the dairy farm that she now owns with her husband Bob. There they raised their five children, and now have eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. She’s been sewing since she was 10 years old, and quilting since she started having children in her early 20s.
“I began my quilting fascination when I enrolled in a class taught by Leona Thompson in the early 1970s,” said Bowdish, explaining that Thompson was the University of Vermont’s extension agent for home-ec in the 1960s and 1970s. The Leona Thompson Bowl is an award that has been given out for 44 years (and counting) at Addison County Fair and Field Days for handicrafts and food.
“She showed me how to piece fabric together using the traditional method of hand stitching. From then on I have enjoyed making some very original quilts and wall hangings. I like being able to sit and stitch quietly, designing as I stitch… I like to be creative; I can’t draw, but I can create with fiber.”
Bowdish’s collection consists of applique, art, celtic, crazy and pieced; often using a combination of styles. “My quilts are one-of-a-kind,” she added. “When I begin a quilting project, I have no idea what it will end up looking like because my best inspirations come when I least expect it, many times in the middle of the night.”
Bowdish has been awarded the Leona Thompson Bowl three separate times: 1986, 2002, and 2014. But the honor hasn’t gone to her head.
Bowdish is as humble as ever. “Since all of my quilts are hand-worked, I don’t make tons of them and I don’t sell any,” she said. “Many of my quilts are on ‘loan’ with friends, family… I do that because I don’t want to have a pile of quilts, so I do that so they can be enjoyed by family friends, hung all over the place, different states different towns. I think it’s a really neat way to share my joys of quilting.”
Eldredge, unlike Bowdish, uses the sewing machine almost exclusively for her quilt projects. But Eldredge didn’t get into quilting right away.
First she pursued her career in sports medicine as an athletic trainer. After graduating University of La Verne in Southern California in 2001, Eldredge spent the next two years at Lindenwood University earning her Masters in Health Management, and getting on the job experience as an athletic trainer. In 2003, she was offered a position at Middlebury College and today counts 14 years as a full-time athletic trainer for the women’s field hockey and ice hockey teams; she also covers men’s and women’s tennis.
“I take care of all the injuries, referrals and work on prevention with the teams,” explained the 38 year old. “I’m at all the practices and games during regular and post season.” That means she’s on the road a lot during the season (sometimes even internationally), but when summer comes, and students go home, Eldredge has lots of free time.
“I’ve always liked art,” she said. “About seven years ago I was in Idaho visiting my mom and one of her friends who’s a quilter. I spent six weeks learning a different technique each week. And I was hooked. It became my form of therapy. I take care of others all day long and when I come home I can spend my time doing something else.”
Without the distractions of Cable or internet at her Shoreham home, Eldredge estimates she’s completed about 20 quilts.
“I enjoy what’s called paper piecing,” she explained. “The patterns are usually very intricate and complicated, so you stitch them on paper — then you tear the paper off at the end. The paper gives you a straight line and keeps everything together neatly.”
Eldredge first learned this technique from one of Judy Niemeyer’s certified instructors who came to a guild meeting to do a trunk show and workshop.
Another technique Eldredge is excited about is call stained glass quilting — “where you fuse the pieces together and sew in the leading.” She learned that at a class at Middlebury Sew-N-Vac.
Eldredge, like Bowdish (and many other quilters, is generous. She’s a member of the Red Clover Quilters, an invite-only group at Middlebury Sew-N-Vac who make quilts to donate to residents at Shard Villa.
“Quilting is very expensive in both time and money, so it’s hard to sell pieces for what they’re actually worth,” said Eldredge. “I make quilts because I really love doing it and I don’t want them to sit around; I want people to enjoy and use them. It’s my way of giving back.”

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