Patchwork of new generation

By Helena Rodriquez

The Red Barn Quilters shatter the image of the Quilted Northern Quilters, a group of old ladies in a TV bathroom tissue commercial who quilt together around a big table.

The Red Barn Quilters is a new group of quilters designed for the young working women of Portales. They meet once a month, on the first Monday at 6:30 p.m., in the “red barn” at Cannon Meadows. In the red barn, the quilting enthusiasts gather for show and tell. They share sewing tips, learn techniques such as paper piercing and nine-patch stars, and participate in mystery blocks and blocks of the month.
“We wanted a quilting group that meets in the evening, for the working women, for girls who live in Portales,” said Elizabeth Lawrence, a founding member of the group which held its inaugural meeting in October.

Members range from age 20-something to 50-something.
“I always thought quilting was for older people, a tradition where they would all get together on Sundays after brunch,” said Deborah Davidsen.

Nonja Hayden, who began quilting at age 23, said, “It was hard to find someone who was young quilting. I think it turned people off,” but she quickly added, “Now quilting is booming. I think it is because there was an explosion in fabrics in the 1990s. Now we’ve got cool patterns.”

Lawrence added that there are also specialized tools for quilting now, all of which, counting the sewing machine, can make it a somewhat expensive hobby, but a hobby nonetheless.

Many of these young quilters have five or six projects going on at a time. Several are enrolled in quilting classes through Eastern New Mexico University with LaMoin Gentile and many participate in or help organize quilting shows such as the upcoming quilting show during the New Mexico Ag Expo on Feb. 21-22. In fact, Lawrence is working on a quilt with John Deere tractor designs for the Ag Expo.

The group will also be making quilts for military families.
Jennifer Johnson just moved to Portales from Wisconsin and joined the Red Barn Quilters for two reasons, No. 1. to meet people, and No. 2, to put the sewing machine her mother gave her for Christmas to use.”

“My grandmother always makes a quilt for a grandchild who is graduating. She has 26 grandchildren, so she’s always quilting and I want to learn too,” Johnson said.

These young quilters differ from quilters of the past in many ways. For one, the old-fashioned hand-sewing method made quilting a group activity, as in the Quilted Northern Quilters. But with electric sewing machines and a whole market of how-to books and patterns, today’s quilters can work on their masterpieces one block at a time. However, they still consider quilting to be an art.

“Quilting is not for utility anymore. It’s an art because you’re picking out the colors and patterns and it’s the time you put into it,” Hayden said.

As for Jeri Conklin, she said, “It’s all about the end picture. You can’t see the finished picture until it’s done and that is the beauty of the whole thing.”

Conklin began quilting when she was in her 20s, saying, “There came a period in my life when I wanted to go back to simpler times, so I taught myself how to sew.”

And once the quilt is done, the quilters sew on a label with their name just like an artist inscribes their name on a painting.

Conklin said that quilting creates an appreciation for handmade work and said that many quilts tell stories as well as history.

“Many quilts served as maps during the days of The Underground Railroad,” Conklin said, explaining how slaves would use quilts to give directions to plantations.
Lawrence said that wherever there’s a quilter, there’s sure to be a room or closet where they keep their stash (of fabric).

Being a part of a military family herself, Hayden stated another advantage of quilting. “Being in the military, we can’t keep our grandma’s antique chest, so there’s not much you can give your kids. With these quilts, they can take them anywhere.”

The Red Barn Quilters group is open to the public. For more information contact Lawrence at 226-0092.