Everything You Need to Know About Quilting in the Hudson Valley

High-quality fabrics — and the joy of coming together for a common purpose — have helped quilting’s popularity to soar

Quilts are more than just a means of keeping someone warm or decorating a wall. They tell stories, whether the story is actually stitched right into the fabric or into the meaning of a gift. “My favorite quilt is the one that I made for my mom and dad for their 50th anniversary,” says Bob Silverman, co-owner of the Joyful Quilter in Glenville. “As my mom got sicker later, that quilt would become her comfort blanket.”

Janna Whearty, the executive director of the Dutchess County Bar Association, remembers visiting Pennsylvania Amish country as a teenager and waiting for her mother to buy a quilt she had been saving for. Whearty looked around at the handmade treasures and thought, ‘I can do this.’ “I’ve never had that reaction to something before,” she says now. She returned home, attended a weeklong quilt camp, and soon had completed her very first quilt — a log cabin pattern starting as a center square, which is a popular pattern for beginners. She hasn’t stopped quilting since then; about five years ago, Whearty began selling her creations at craft fairs. “I probably make between 100 and 250 pieces a year, mostly wall hangings, table runners, place mats, bags, and other accessory-type items,” she says.

All around the country — and the Valley — folks of all ages and both genders (yes, men too) are gathering together, picking fabrics, taking classes, and creating quilts

The origins of quilting remain a bit of a mystery, although some clues suggest that it started in ancient Egypt. In the 1800s, the art of quilting flourished with the American pioneers, who used quilts for warmth, to give as gifts, and to keep as family heirlooms. Quilting has always been a social pastime; in those days, women organized quilting bees (in the same way that the men planned barn raisings) as a way to jointly create a quilt and to socialize. In recent years quilting has seen a resurgence — both as an activity and as a well-respected art form. Quilts made it back onto our cultural radar in 1971 when New York’s Whitney Museum took the art world by storm by exhibiting antique and vintage quilts; several years later, quilts made to celebrate the American Bicentennial helped cement the popularity of this type of folk art. This fall, many PBS stations are screening Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics, a nine-part documentary series that delves into many facets of quilting, from how quilts have empowered women to how they have changed through the years.

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sunfower quilt
blue quilt

All around the country — and the Valley — folks of all ages and both genders (yes, men too) are gathering together, picking fabrics, taking classes, and creating quilts. “It’s gotten so much more popular. People can’t afford to vacation as much anymore, so they’re nesting and looking for things to do,” says Kathy Joray, who opened the Quilters Attic in Pine Bush in 1994. “I see a lot of professional working women, because quilting is a good stress reliever, but recently the younger generation has become interested, too. I think that’s because of the show Project Runway.”

Of course, much has changed since the quilting bees of the 1800s. While the basics remain the same — creating a top, a filler, and a backing — “sewing is very computer-oriented now,” says Joray, who notes that many sewing machines today have USB ports, which can stitch out patterns created on a computer. “There are so many different techniques now,” she says. “You can capture memories with the use of photo transferring and stitching T-shirts right into the quilt. There is painting and beading on fabric, and a lot more embellishment. It is not as utilitarian, but more decorative.”

Joray offers four-week beginner quilting classes, where students learn to cut fabric with a rotary cutter (“it’s like a pizza wheel with a razor blade,” says Joray) and to machine-stitch it together. “They buy their own supplies, but they use our machines. They can try out all of the different features, and at the end they have a quilt to take home.”

Whearty attributes quilting’s rise in popularity, in part, to handbag designer Vera Bradley. “Their bags have upped the ante for fabric designers,” she says. “The difference in the fabric between when I first started and now is night and day, in both selection and quality. It makes quilting more trendy.” But there is a downside to that too, warns Whearty. “This is not a cheap hobby. Even cheap fabric costs between $8 and $10 a yard.” Whearty’s solution: she travels to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, every other year so she can stock up. “Their prices are more in the $4 to $5 range, so I go as often as I can. Last time I was there I spent about $2,500 in one shot, and I saw my husband’s jaw drop. He couldn’t fathom it, but it was definitely worth it.”

Next: More about the Joyful Quilter and local quilters


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man sewing quilt

It’s a Guy Thing

Noel Montgomery says he’s never been teased about quilting. “In fact, most people are fascinated with the fact that I do this,” says the Hyde Park resident who’s been quilting for 12 years.

“My mom passed away and I found the quilt she had done, and the block and a pattern. I wondered if I could do it,” he says. Additional stress from a relative’s health scare was the catalyst he needed to actually buy the fabric and give it a shot. “I needed to keep my mind busy,” says Montgomery. “It’s become the activity for this retired man to do while watching hockey games.”

Montgomery’s first quilt had a six-pointed star that incorporated fabric from dresses his sisters wore when they were little girls. “I didn’t know what I was doing but I just started.” Today he quilts both by hand and machine, making approximately seven quilts a year, many of which have won awards. “People have an appreciation for what I’ve done,” he says. “In the last 30 years, there’s been a great revival of quilters because the quality of the fabrics got better. I just wish more men would quilt.”

Bob Silverman and his partner Jim Helmes are co-owners, with Susan Pettengill, of Joyful Quilter in Glenville. After buying a home in Woodstock, they shopped for a quilt to fill an empty wall. It was this excursion that ultimately lead to the life-altering decision to open their store several years later. “We decided we wanted to make our own quilts and it just took over,” says Silverman, who previously worked as a bead buyer in the fashion industry.

Silverman admits that their first quilt, a nine-patch, was filled with mistakes, so the pair started taking workshops and buying books on quilting. Since then their quilts have been in traveling exhibits and they also teach quilting classes and have led retreats — some for men only. “The first one that we held at our old shop in Woodstock was fantastic,” he remembers. “People stayed at local B&Bs and we made all the food for them. We’d quilt until midnight each night.”

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Local Quilters and Sewing Centers

Quilter’s Attic Sewing Center, Pine Bush
This roomy shop features the complete line of Pfaff and Babylock Sewing Machines, as well as a large selection of fabrics, books, and patterns. Classes for quilting, sewing, and embroidery, including summer sewing programs for children ages eight and up, are also offered.

The Joyful Quilter, Glenville
Located in the Capital District, the Joyful Quilter is a source for batting, fabric, gifts, patterns, and more. Classes and programs, such as sit-and-sew Tuesdays, Quilts for Kids charity project, finishing school, beginning quilting classes, T-shirt making, and weekend retreats are also available.

The Patchwork Co., Windham
This Green County company offers an eclectic mix of quilting fabrics and is also a Pfaff dealer.

Quilt Basket, Wappingers Falls
Celebrating 22 years in business, the Quilt Basket features 4,000 bolts of cotton fabrics, along with books and patterns. Quilting classes and retreats are also offered.

The Foofsique Quilting Emporium, Chatham
This full-service shop carries fabric lines such as Moda, P&B, and Marcus Brothers, as well as batiks from Tonga, Hoffman, Blank, and others. A full line of sewing machines, patterns, and books are also available. Programs include Sunday Breakfast club, UFQ (unfinished quilting) classes, and evening open sews.

First Dutchess Quilters, Poughkeepsie
100-plus member organization that meets the third Wednesday of the month in Poughkeepsie. Speakers, workshops, and community service projects.

new england quilting museum

Road trip! If quilts have caught your attention, you may want to check out the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, 30 miles north of Boston. Through the end of this month, you can catch a special exhibit featuring products made by women in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, who are taking care of their families by creating one-of-a-kind quilts for sale abroad.


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