The itch to stitch: Hudson Valley quilting guilds

The tradition of American women getting together to quilt evolved in the mid-19th century. The pioneers who moved westward, in particular, had lives so full of hard work that there was little time for socializing, and having left most of their extended families behind in the East, their lives could be lonely. “Quilting bees,” in which women would come from miles around to work on quilts together, accomplished the necessary domestic chore of sewing warm bed coverings while giving the women a chance to visit with each other. In the process, the quilters also got the chance to exercise some artistry through design choices brought to life with fine handwork skills of which they could be justifiably proud.

Often a quilting bee would be a full-day affair, sometimes followed by a dance in the evening. There might be a purpose to a quilting bee – helping a young woman about to be married complete quilts for her hope chest – but as often as not, quilting bees were simply a practical solution to combining work and pleasure. Sitting around the quilting frame together, engaged in the hypnotic rhythms of needle and thread while exchanging the news of the day, must have made that hard life on the Great Plains much more bearable.

Today’s quilters also often choose to get together in groups – or guilds, as they’re more commonly called. The pleasure of sharing an interest with like minds is as strong a need as ever. And social media that supposedly bring people together today can, as often as not, isolate us from actual human contact as surely as did all of those miles of dusty prairie separate the pioneer women from each other.

Some quilting guilds attract members who take a more traditional approach to quiltmaking, focusing on historic designs and the craft’s intrinsic usefulness. Other guilds’ members also like to make functional objects, but prefer to use designs and color palettes that are decidedly modern. At the far end of the spectrum are the “art quilters,” who make non-functional works for exhibit and treat their craft much as a painter thinks of his or her work, only using fabrics rather than pigments.

The handcraft movement is burgeoning in the Hudson Valley these days, and locally there are more than a few quilting guilds for those inclined to join one. Here are two of them.


The Wiltwyck Quilters’ Guild

Traditional quilters will feel right at home with the nonprofit Wiltwyck Quilters’ Guild, whose members approach their craft from the standpoint of preserving the tradition and history of quiltmaking. The Guild currently has 147 members. Meetings are held September through May on the third Saturday of each month – the second Saturday in December and in months where a holiday interferes. Because of Easter, the next meeting will be held on Saturday, April 12.

Meetings are held at the Grace Community Church at 160 Seremma Court in Lake Katrine. Coffee time begins at 9:30 a.m., followed by the meeting at 10 a.m., with a guest speaker.

The April meeting will feature local quilter Diane Johnson, who will use several quilts and block samples to offer insight for quilters on working with color and ways for quilters to enhance their personal color sense. At the meeting on Saturday, May 17, fiber artist Kate Themel will visit from Cheshire, Connecticut to do a trunk show and give a presentation on “A Painter’s Approach to Fiber Art.”

Apart from the meetings for its members, the group holds various quilting workshops as well. Its annual fall quilt show, “Quilts in the Valley 2014,” will be held this year in Accord on October 11 and 12. The Wiltwyck Guild also does “Community Service Sewing” on the Wednesday after the regular meeting at the Kingston Elks Lodge in Kingston from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. Recent projects the members have made have benefited local shelters, nursing homes and hospitals.

Special events include a summer tea in June, a members’ flea market in September and a holiday party in December. The sixth annual Quilters’ Retreat was just held in late March, offering avid quilters a three-day getaway.

Membership dues are $25 annually, and new members are always welcome. For more information, visit


The Modern Quilt Guild

Not quite at the opposite end of the spectrum is the Hudson Valley chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG), a worldwide organization made up of more than 100 local guilds. While they do focus on contemporary colors and designs, the members of this guild still prefer to make traditional functional objects.

The Modern Quilt Guild developed out of an online community of quilters who wanted to start meeting in person. The founding guild was formed in Los Angeles in October of 2009, and in a relatively short period of time, through blogs and the Internet, word spread, and now there are local guilds all over the world. The MQG is a nonprofit corporation with 501 (c) (3) status.

The Hudson Valley chapter was founded by Nell Timmer of Garrison and Beth Poague of Beacon in 2012, and welcomes members from Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester Counties who are interested in the growth and development of quilting inspired by modern design while seeking community and friendship. According to Timmer and Poague, “We are quilters first, modern quilters second.”

The characteristics that set modern quilters apart from traditional quilters are a use of asymmetry in quilt design, relying less on repetition and interaction of quilt block motifs; an embrace of simplicity and Minimalism, along with inspirations that come from modern art and architecture; and bold colors and gray and white as neutrals, along with a focus on finishing quilts using a sewing machine rather than the traditional handwork.

The group meets on the fourth Sunday of each month at libraries in Beacon, Fishkill or Garrison. Like the Wiltwyck Quilters’ Guild, the Modern Quilt Guild also does some sewing for charity, and holds special events like the monthly “Quilt ‘til You Wilt.” New members are welcome. For more information, visit or e-mail [email protected]

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