The North Dorset Quilters should be pleased with their 20th anniversary exhibition after it inspired new members to join.
25 group members displayed their quilt art on panels inside St Peters Church. The colourful, creative showcase impressed Shaftesbury resident Rachel Diment so much, she joined the group on the spot. “I’ve been interested in quilting for a really long time and I can sew. But I’ve never tried quilting and I admire the style enormously. I’d really like to learn how to make some of these beautiful pieces,” Rachel said.
It must be hugely satisfying when your artwork inspires someone to the extent that they want to get involved. Jennifer Stokes can take some of the credit. She organised this exhibition, held at the end of September. The displays featured work from approximately half the group’s members, who live across North Dorset. Quilters travel up to 15 miles for the regular programme of events, held at Shaftesbury’s Royal British Legion Hall.
“We have meetings around eighteen times each year,” said Jennifer. “They are a mix of workshops, social evenings and speakers.” There’s a fortnightly Thursday afternoon workshop, led by a member. Once a month, there’s a speaker on a Wednesday evening, too. That talk offers quilters an insight into how one practitioner has perfected the craft.
“A lot of the speakers are people that have been doing quilting for years. They will bring in their quilts or give a slideshow of their work and they will show their particular technique. It’s quite interesting for everybody to see. Usually, they work in one theme for a long time, develop it and it becomes theirs,” said Jennifer.
Today, the majority of group members make quilts for decorative, rather than practical, purposes. “I don’t think many people use them on their beds any more. They might throw it over the bed as a decorative piece after they have made the bed in the morning,” Jennifer explained. “A lot of it is quilt art. It’s meant to hang on the wall. But they are all useable as quilts because they have three layers, a back, wadding and a front. There are no rules, you can do what you like. Some people just do a back and the front. They sometimes put a piece of fleece on the back. The fleeces are nice, warm and cuddly for a child.”
But new recruit Rachel doesn’t want to make a quilt to hang on her wall. She wants one that will keep her warm. “I think that things should be functional,” Rachel said, adding that she subscribes to the Victorian designer William Morris’ principle of ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’. “Quilts were traditionally heirlooms and you put them on your beds. That’s what I would like to make,” Rachel continued.
The North Dorset Quilters’ exhibition was arranged to celebrate the club’s anniversary and many of the exhibited pieces incorporated the birthday theme, ‘Now We Are 20.’ In terms of membership numbers, they are 50! Jennifer has watched the group grow over the decades. “I was here from the beginning. I was one of the founders, twenty years ago,” Jennifer said, with some pride.
I asked Jennifer whether she is a good quilter. “I’d like to think that over the years my technique has improved a lot, yes,” she replied. There have been TV reality competitions to find Britain’s best painter, interior designer and baker. I can’t remember a quilting based reality show. It’s probably being filmed in a countryside marquee somewhere right now! So if Jennifer was a judge on our, currently, imaginary ‘Britain’s Best Quilter’ series, what qualities would she look for?
“Good design. Good technique in the sewing – whether it is hand or machine sewing. Just a nice finish to it as well,” Jennifer offered. “I’d want to see whether they had put the border on nicely and whether the borders fit with the rest of it. When you’re starting, the first thing you need to think about is your design. Then you choose your fabrics to go with your design. Then you’re looking at colours, patterns and fabrics and the technique of sewing it together.”
The club is still encouraging new recruits to join Rachel and there’s a gender imbalance for us lads to address. There are no male members, currently. “There are none,” said Jennifer, adding, “But any men are welcome to join us. There are men quilters in other groups but we don’t have any in our group unfortunately.”
You can find out more about the North Dorset Quilters at NorthDorsetQuilters.co.uk.