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Posted: July 31, 2011 9:35 a.m.

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Of the many groups and activities that abound in Social Circle, the Quilting Belles is a real standout. The organization is laid back in the sense that it operates behind the scenes without fanfare or a recognized public persona. It is purposeful in that it seeks to preserve a skill that could well become obsolete in today's fast paced, throw-away society.

The organization was formed in 2006 as part of the Social Circle United Methodist Women after the death of avid quilter Mamie Bell Wiley. Mamie had often invited fellow quilters to her home on Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to work on the quilt of the day. The group always adjourned promptly at 11 a.m. at Mamie's insistence so she could make lunch for her husband, Fred. Mamie Bell was tragically killed in an auto accident during a trip to Guatemala while visiting her missionary daughter. Several of her quilting friends decided to form a formal organization and named it the Quilting Belles in her honor. The founding members included Marion Burnette, Molly Kimler, Kathy Trantham, Kim Unruh, Nancy Posner and Carolyn Neely; almost all of these ladies are still active in the group five years later. Their mission is to teach others while enjoying the fellowship of sewing aficionados in this community.
The major Quilting Belles project last year was to produce a Dresden Plate quilt which raised $1,000 for the local Relay for Life cancer fundraising event. The Dresden Plate quilt pattern was one of the most popular quilts made during the 1920s and ‘30s. It was first published in the ‘20s but not always under the name Dresden Plate. This quilt is made of blocks with fabric appliquéd in a series of radiating "petals" with flat sides. Usually they radiate from a central circle which is more representative of a flower than a plate, thus the flower names sometimes used for this pattern in past years.

I attended my first Quilting Belles meeting last week. Marion, Kim, and Carolyn were there, as well as Judy Barton, Penny Keener, Patsy Eggers and Cindy Enhuis. I didn't know what to expect at this meeting. I thought there'd be a group of women with aprons and green eyeshades, laboring silently over a gigantic quilt frame. Nothing could be further from the truth. There they all were, talking and laughing, while setting up a light potluck supper. Their quilting that day consisted of a kind of show-and-tell about patterns, techniques and experiences as applied to the various quilted pieces that members drew out of their tote bags. After eating I asked, "when are you going to start quilting?" The answer was not very clear. Apparently, quilting with the Quilting Belles is often more of an individual rather than a group exercise.

Aspiring quilters who join the group begin by quilting an approximately 12x12-inch square pillow top with guidance from experienced members. The length of time it takes to complete this task depends on the skill level and commitment of the person involved. One recent activity involving all the members was to complete 12 quilted squares, collectively incorporating a variety of patterns, shapes and colors. Then all the squares were traded around, so that the completed quilts would become friendship quilts. I had a look at some of them in various stages of completion and they were truly unique.

I also learned that quilt frames, at least for this group, were a thing of the past. Currently the quilters use hand-held circular frames that look like large embroider hoops. These hoops can be placed over the desired section to be quilted and used as a lap frame. The individual pattern pieces are stitched together which are then "framed" with solid fabric strips to complete a square; the squares are then stitched together to form a quilt. Cotton batting and a solid fabric backing are applied behind the pieced top and then actual quilting begins. Plastic finger guards are used to protect fingers pushing and pulling the quilting needle. The stitching on the top forms a pattern on the bottom backing. It's a complicated and time consuming process but the result is a great source of pride and accomplishment.

The Quilting Belles welcome anyone wishing to learn to quilt. You don't have to be a Methodist or a church member. The group meets twice a month on the second and fourth Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and new members are always welcome. The potluck suppers are held only about once every six weeks. The rest of the meetings are devoted to quilting on site. One of the obvious benefits of membership is the close friendships that are formed. The current president, Marion Burnette, discussed with me the benefits of membership. She said that, "the group brings women together in a setting where they can enjoy each others friendship. Friendship is so often missing in our fast-paced lives."

A separate knitting group alternately meets on the first and third Thursday. Also, a second quilting group called All God's Children meets on the first Wednesday of each month to make blankets and stuffed animals for children in need. In addition, they give baby blankets to every new baby in the church.

The enthusiasm of the Quilting Belles is infectious. I have decided to become a quilter! I am meeting tomorrow with Patsy Eggers to select a pattern and receive the necessary instruction to build a 12x12 inch pillow top. Patsy, who makes all the costumes for our Social Circle Theater, is also an enthusiastic quilter and, with her help, I hope to become the belle of the Quilting Belles in the very near future!


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