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By the Way: Quilting to perfection


Janet Stoner, a friend of mine who lives in Lahaska, has the most amazing collection of hand-sewn quilts I’ve ever seen – and that includes museum exhibits.

She has designed and sewn them all, and the home she shares with her husband, Herb, is actually almost like a private quilt museum.

Handsome hand-quilted things are everywhere – from coasters to placemats, pillows and table runners, wall hangings to bedspreads – and they are incredibly beautiful. More have been given to children and grandchildren.

Janet shies away from the traditional pastels usually associated with Early American quilts and turns to the bold, more intense colors for dramatic contrasts and designs. “I really like dark colors,” she said.

It’s more accurate to call quilting an art than a craft, because it’s climbed to that height over the years, and in Janet’s case, she certainly shows the obsession of the true artist, the obvious love for her materials, her designs, her tools. Each piece she designs and makes takes hours of planning, selecting colors and materials and patterns or designs from stencils. Putting them all together most certainly is an art. She chases perfection with real passion.

Sometimes a finished work matches her mood at the time. A case in point is a striking little quilt she made just after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. It is done in the basic colors and stars and stripes of the American flag, but the hues are somber and the lines kind of shattered. It’s a haunting memorial tribute.

Although Janet said she has seen many gorgeous machine-stitched quilts, she personally prefers to hand-quilt. “I like the way the fabric puffs up,” she said. She has bags and bags (some even quilted) stuffed with fabric and patterns and stencils.

Handmade quilts are expensive, and although Janet does not sell her work, she hops to the defense of those who do. “For a large quilt, the material alone can cost $300 and then there’s the batting and backing and the hours and hours of work,” she said.

Janet has been quilting since the early 1990s and for 25 years she’s been meeting every Wednesday afternoon with other quilters who belong to the HazMat Quilters, women of all ages. The materials they use are not hazardous, but instead, handsome, expensive, often imported fabrics.

However, the name they’ve chosen indicates they are a lively, witty group of women who gather for a couple hours to pursue their craft and their friendships. Janet invited me to join the group for the afternoon at the New Hope home of Penny Armagost.

I asked about the interesting quilt hanging on a wall there and Penny told me each of the women had worked on it. To me it seems there’s something very special, very lovely, about its significance and this coming together of friends with a shared interest for a single afternoon each week. I was envious in a way – perhaps because writing is such a solitary thing.

The women wield thimbles and needles and clip wayward threads using tiny, precious scissors on exquisite fabrics spilling from their laps, all the while chatting. They share quilting successes and dilemmas and news about fabrics and quilting classes and events as well as their multi-layered personal lives: a gift for an upcoming wedding, maybe a quilt for a new baby or for a friend with health issues. And then there’s dessert.

This is really a 21st-century version of the old quilting bee where traditional stay-at-home wives turned worn-out clothes into bedding for their families. One big difference in the art is the quality of the fabrics they use. These gals are sharp, independent, talented and so invested in their art they seem to know and share all that’s going on in the quilting world, down to displaying photos of quilts on their cellphones – right there, intermingled with their family photos. It’s that combined passion that keeps them going.

Some of the quilters drive miles to attend the Wednesday afternoon sessions. Several of the women also belong to other quilting groups such as the Courthouse Quilters in Flemington. N.J., or the Newtown Quilters.

Women working on their quilts were Cass Garner of Stockton, N.J., Gina Krejsa of Solebury, Nancy Wilkinson of Blue Bell, Marty Sonnet and Terry Bovee of Ann’s Choice in Warminster, Linda Wright of Yardley and Judy Melson of New Hope.