When I arrive at Collingwood United Church just before noon on Tuesday, I realize I am in time for dinner but late for the party. Quilting Day started hours earlier.
Once I learn this is a Day, and one of reaching back decades, I know the work being done here is special and significant and worth witnessing, in part because the number of quilters around the frame is slowly declining.
“We used to be able to get a quilt done in a day,” Grace Smith tells me, “but we don’t have as many quilters anymore.”
The women – today there are seven – arrive around 9:30 in the morning and take a break for dinner, which is provided by the Collingwood UCW (United Church Women group).
“At our UCW meeting, we plan our quilting dinner and we have extra people who cook for us,” explains Janet Tizzard, who doesn’t quilt but organizes the meal, which costs six dollars and is open to the community.
“When it comes to Quilting Day, I don’t have to think about what to make,” says Betty Weatherbee. “I make beans and Judy makes her chicken divan.”
That explains the husbands waiting to be called to the basement to enjoy the homemade meal complete with bread and biscuits and cake for dessert.
After lunch, back upstairs at the frame, the women jam thimbles onto fingers and pick up their needles while I sit on the piano bench and watch. The quilt is set up in the vestry, a large room alongside the church sanctuary, where it can remain until it is finished.
“We used to quilt in people’s living rooms before we had this vestry,” says Judy Bragg, who was taught to quilt more than fifty years ago by her new sister-in-law.
“Doreen said, ‘If you’re going to live in Collingwood, you have to know how to quilt so come on over.’ She didn’t care what my stitches looked like; the quilts were just for her.”
“You couldn’t live in Collingwood and not quilt,” says Betty. “We moved here in 1961 and I’ve been quilting since then. I had my ‘Just Friends’ books out the other night and I was making beans for the quilting dinner in 1983.”
Betty says that when they were all younger, and there were 16 women around the frame, “There were days when we’d quilt all day, go home and make supper then come back and quilt until ten o’clock.”
Now, after the big push on Quilting Day, the women come to the vestry to work on the quilt when they can.
The group quilts when they have a project; today they are taking the “Dresden Plate” pieces a friend’s late mother made and finally stitching them into a proper quilt.
Grace says they once kept track of the hours everyone worked on a quilt and they totalled 240 hours.
So if you ever balk at the cost of a quilt, consider this small group of skilled and dedicated women who spend more than 200 hours hand-stitching every piece and every inch of a quilt – and know you are paying for a work of art.