The great Greenbelt quilting bee

The great Greenbelt quilting bee

A guest blog from Miranda Threlfall Holmes and Anne Bennett

As soon as the Silent Stars theme was announced, we wanted to run a Quilting Bee. Stars are a classic theme in patchwork and quilting. But also, quilting itself has for years been the silent star of the arts world. Particularly associated with American women from the pioneer period onwards, quilting has been primarily done by women, in a domestic context, and so has not generally been given a voice as an art form until relatively recently. Women quilters have been the ‘silent stars’ of the arts – and textile arts generally have been the ‘silent stars’ of the art world.

In recent years, attention has been drawn to the role that quilts and quiltmaking played in the ‘Underground Railroad’. It is thought that quilts, hanging out of windows or on washing lines, may have acted as signs and codes to signpost runaway slaves to those who would help them on their way to freedom. Silent stars, indeed.

And in the last 20 years or so, African American traditions of improvised quilting have suddenly been appreciated as an art form which is transforming the modern quilting aesthetic. The quilts of Gee’s Bend, exhibited as art, opened the art world’s eyes to these. What had been seen as merely functional making-do, quilts using discarded work clothing and made to no fixed pattern, is now recognised as a modern art form in its own right. Even more Silent Stars.

From the earliest days, quilting was a collaborative art form. The women of a family would work together to make functional and decorative quilts, and Quilting Bees were times when groups of women – neighbours and friends – would come together to sew. Sometimes this was to do patchwork together, maybe each making a copy of the ‘block’ – the basic pattern repeated many times in traditional American quilts – to then be sewn together. Sometimes it was to do the actual quilting – the sewing together of the layers of cloth to make the finished product strong and durable as well as decorative. Quilting Bees were important parts of the social fabric of often isolated communities, and an early example of community arts projects. We are two women – priests and crafters – who are passionate about the potential of working together to make beautiful things being a beautiful thing in itself.

To honour all these strands of the tradition, all these Silent Stars, come and help make an improvised Silent Stars quilt in three hours! The quilt will then be offered up in our worship on Sunday as a symbol of our craft, our collaboration, and the beauty we can make by working together.

Do I have to know how to sew to take part?

No, the idea is that ANYONE can have a go, from experienced quilters/sewers to children and complete novices!

When and Where?

The Greenbelt Quilting Bee will take place on the Saturday afternoon, from 3-6pm, in the Christian Aid Presents… venue. The Christian Aid theme this year is to do with making a home-from-home for refugees, so making a snuggly quilt seems particularly appropriate

Should I bring anything?

Everything is provided. However, some quilters have been asking if they can bring fabrics they would like to donate, and that is very welcome! Some people are also making stars in advance to add to the quilt when they arrive, and that is very welcome too. But there is no need to do so – you will be shown how to make a star and how to add it to the quilt on the day.

If I want to make a star in advance, what colour/size should it be?

There is no set size, as the stars don’t need to mesh together as in traditional block quilting. We shall be using a unique method we have developed where the stars are both appliqued on to the quilt top, and the quilt is hand quilted, at the same time.

We suggest stars could be anything from 2” across to maybe a maximum of 10 or 12”. They could be stand alone stars (we will be making English Paper pieced stars on the day), or set into a block, it is up to you.

Colours: the background colour of the quilt is navy blue, so stars should show up against that. Our fabric pick that we will be bringing with us is mainly white/silver/gold/yellow/orange, but with a few hot pinks etc thrown into the mix!

I don’t understand, but I’d love to learn!

If you are a complete beginner, just turn up and we will show you what to do! You can either do the REALLY simple (particularly child-friendly) option and simply draw a star on fabric, cut it out, and then add it to our quilt. Or, if you want to learn more, we will teach you English Paper Piecing. This is a traditional patchwork technique where small pieces of fabric are folded around paper templates, then sewn together edge to edge.

We look forward to seeing you there, our own Silent Stars carrying on this great tradition of Silent Stars making beautiful things together!