The Hoosier state is usually associated with farms, basketball and racing, and it’s true that Indiana has rich soil, talented players and some of the fastest tracks in the world. But Indiana is also the home of sculptors, writers, potters, weavers, musicians – all kinds of talented artists.

One example of homegrown art is quilting. Southeastern Indiana quilters put a lot of thought into their choice of fabrics and patterns before creating something that may be shared with a stranger in need of comfort or might be used in their own homes for years, eventually becoming a well-worn family heirloom.

Evidence of quilting has been found dating from ancient Egypt and China, into the Medieval period (one excellent example being the Tristan quilt made between 1360 and 1400). Today’s quilters are carrying on an art tradition and craft that clearly predates the westward push across America.

Shirley Lutterbeck belongs to multiple quilting groups including the Rivertown Quilters, and has been sewing since she was a child. She says, “I like creating – I’ll make something out of nothing.”

Rivertown Quilters Judi Sauerbrey says, “I’ve always been interested in women’s history; not just quilting, but handwork is just so much a part of women’s history, I think this just resonates with that as well.”

Although men are talented and enthusiastic quilters, the majority of quilters are women. This might be attributed to the traditional practice of fabric crafts being handed down through mothers and grandmothers. As Sunshine Stitchers of Rising Sun member Betty Pavy says, “I’ve seen quilts from back in the 1850s. It’s just what women have done. When it started, time-wise men wouldn’t have had a chance to do it.”

A real commitment of time and energy is needed to complete larger bed-sized pieces, but most quilters happily admit to being addicted to the craft and look forward to sharing their triumphs and challenges with fellow quilters.

Cindy Peace, the past president of Rivertown Quilters, says, “I think quilting is a stress reliever for a lot of people; it’s a way to kind of put your daily pressures to one side and work with color and form. It’s an artistic outlet, but it’s something manageable, even if they can’t do watercolors or oils. It’s therapy, it’s art – it just seems to resonate with many people, and it’s a way to leave a tangible piece of yourself for the next generation.”

Lawrenceville resident and quilter Dolores Alexander discovered a connection with her late grandmother, explaining, “I found lots of her fabric and lots of her squares that she already started, so I had enough material to make a wall hanging – and it hangs in my quilt room now. To have something that my grandmother started is really precious to me.”

Member Roslyn Henschen explains, “I enjoy the artistic part of it, and also I make quilts for my family and try to make things that will be here after I’m gone so it will remind them – so they will remember me.”

Quilts have been used to celebrate family stories and as a tribute to sacrifices made, as was the case with the reproduction Civil War soldier’s quilt crafted by the Sunshine Stitchers in Rising Sun. Member Karen Gillard explains, “We took a pattern from an existing quilt that survived the war and we took the names of Civil War soldiers from Ohio County and put their names on it. We used ink, which is how they did it then.”

Quilting has evolved with each generation while respecting the traditions behind the craft. As technology and artistic license expands, so does opportunity for growth and self-expression. As Roslyn Henschen says, “I like more modern stuff. I’m not the old fashioned type – I make my own designs.”

According to Brenda Hebel with the Rivertown Quilters, “It’s just fascinating especially nowadays with all the different things you can do to a quilt – embroidery machines and the long arm machines, embroidery applique,  different kinds of creativity, and not just with material, but buttons and jewelry and embellishments and paint – nowadays anything goes. Years ago a quilt was a necessity that you needed for your bed, but now you can make all different kinds of pictures … it’s like painting with material.”

Designing new quilt patterns is something Megan Pohlar-McGuire has been doing for as long as she can remember. She explains, “Mom and Dad opened the store when I was a year old, so I haven’t known any other life … so when I see fabric, I see it differently. I don’t know really how to explain it; it’s just I’ll see a pattern that doesn’t grab me, so I’ll go to my sketch pad and I’ll start sketching and designing, and sometimes I dream it. And that sounds weird, but I do dream quilts. I just love working with fabric, but I’m not an artist – I can’t draw to save my life, but designing is where I like to be. I love to color, so using colored pencils when I design puts it in a whole different area.

“Sometimes I dream something in different shades of color, but usually it’s shades of gray, black and white – I get the general gist of it and go off that. A lot of times I’ll start drawing something and I’ll get sidetracked, and that will lead to something else – not what I originally intended for it to look like – but I’ll look at it and say, ‘Oh that’s pretty good’.

Even though Mrs. McGuire is a busy mother of two young children, works in her family’s fabric shop, and is the woman behind Meg’s Choice Pattterns, she says, “I carry paper with me all of the time; I have lots of little pieces of paper and a file that’s full of patterns that have been sketched but haven’t been written yet. I just doodle all of the time.”

Quilting allows any person who might not think of themselves as an artist to explore their creativity while making something that is beautiful and usable. Many quilting groups regularly donate lovingly made quilts to emergency services to be used for disaster victims, to neonatal units for babies who need special nurturing, to older children facing family and personal challenges, or to veterans through national programs like Quilts of Valor.

Quilting can be both craft and fine art.

Quilters of all ages and experience level are warmly invited to connect with local quilting guilds, bees and groups. Kitty Parkhurst with Rivertown Quilters cites the reasons she became a member, “It was the fellowship and camaraderie … because this is a very friendly, very giving group that likes to share ideas with each other. There are no quilt police here … everybody just seems to inspire each other. And they’re very supportive, too.”

Fellow member Paula Keller agrees and encourages quilters of any skill level to visit, saying, “We always have Show and Tell at every meeting. It’s always interesting to see how many different things there are … everything is welcome.”

For more information about local quilting guilds, please contact:

Rivertown Quilters at http://rivertownquilters.com/

Rising Sun Sunshine Quilters at https://sites.google.com/a/ohiocountyhistory.org/quiltfest/home

To learn more about quilt patterns, classes and new ideas in handwork, please visit Megan Pohlar-McGuire at http://www.facebook.com/Megs-Choice-Patterns and visit Pohlar Fabrics, located in Liberty, Indiana http://www.pohlarfabrics.com/index.htm

If interested in learning how to quilt, or to learn more about the St. Peter’s weekly quilting bee, please email Dolores Alexander at dalexand@etczone.com