Three Rivers Quilt Guild stitches together memories

Published 4:15 pm Thursday, July 7, 2022

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From coastal Wilmington to West Jefferson in the mountains, and scads of towns and counties in between, women (and a few men) gather at least monthly to do something they love. They sort, cut and stitch together colorful pieces of cotton fabric into one-of-a-kind quilts of various sizes.

This shared activity makes for ready-made friendships.

“Friendships are generated as we work together,” said Trudy Jepsen, who leads the Three Rivers Quilt Guild in Stanly County.

“We get together because quilting is our passion and we can use our gifts to share with others,” said Jepsen, a 20-year member of the Guild.

If patchwork quilting came about when pioneer women wasted nothing and used what they had, it continues today because women want to make something beautiful and serve the community with their talent.

They haven’t given up resourceful ways, however. Eddy Beard keeps her four-inch squares separated by color in a large, recycled pizza box supplied by fellow quilter Sandra Rushing.

Jepsen came up with a hack for stabilizing her quilting ruler when she’s cutting fabric. She attached a thrift-shop bathtub grab-bar — less chance of slicing a finger with a very sharp rotary cutter.

The Guild members gather monthly to make “cuddle quilts” and pillowcases which they donate to Albemarle’s Butterfly House and to their own members who are recovering from surgery. The members enjoy the creative outlet — and the sisterhood, says Geneva Poplin. After recent knee-surgery, Poplin received a “heart quilt” made of 12 individually designed heart squares stitched by her quilting friends.

Jepsen recently gave a demonstration to newcomers about making pillowcases while others worked on lap quilts in different stages.

Laura Krug, left, and Sylvia Burris put together a “quilt sandwich.” (Photo by Jo Grey)

“We’re catching up from the pandemic,” said Beard as she cut square after square with her titanium blade rotary cutter. “We didn’t meet as often and now we’re behind on furnishing quilts for the children at Butterfly House.”

In a few hours, many hands working together transformed colorful fabric remnants into finished items.

Because it takes a lot of squares, strips and triangles to make a pleasing design, the women rely on donated fabric as much as possible — new, woven prints or solid colors — and can make artful use of any amount.

Pat Stepp, a longtime member who passed away last year, made it known to her family that her fabric stash was to be given to the Guild.

The average cost of quality cotton fabric has risen to $11-12 per yard, turning quilting into an expensive hobby, noted Jepsen.

(Above) Sylvia Burris autographs her “heart” square. (Photos by JO GREY)

A patchwork quilt is like a sandwich made of a patterned, stitched cotton top, a middle layer of batting for added softness and a backing of more fabric.

Those textiles alone can add up to $150, says Jepsen, depending on the yardage required. In addition, most hobbyists have moved away from the final step of hand-quilting, which is the time-intensive type of sewing used to hold together the layers of the bed covering or lap blanket.

Consequently, many crafters must pay someone with a quilting machine to complete the project.

There goes another $150. Hiring someone to do old-fashioned hand-quilting costs even more, Jepsen said.

“I like to do ‘old school’ stitching,” member Sandra Rushing said, and she has a “trip-around-the-world” pillow to prove it.

Rushing said she used old “lick-it” stamps as a pattern for tiny squares of soft pastel-colored cotton which form the central design of the pillow. With tiny, almost invisible hand stitches, she joined the 100 or so squares and triangles together.

Though members use different methods and have personal design and color preferences, everyone involved with the Guild likes the community service aspect. “Being able to help kids with what they’re going through is very satisfying,” said Poplin.

She says the group used to make quilts for cancer patients and for women served by Esther House and the Pregnancy Resource Center. Now, their focus is on the children. Each child at the Butterfly House can pick out their own quilt, says Poplin.

A couple of times a year the ladies leave their quilting supplies at home and gather to socialize and share a covered dish dinner. Before meetings, they enjoy pizza together. Sometimes they attend events like the Quilting and Needle Art Extravaganza, held in Statesville in 2022.

Jepsen said quilters from all over the Carolinas recently spent three days together sewing, taking classes and making purchases from favorite vendors at the Myrtle Beach Quilt Party.

Three Rivers Quilt Guild meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Parish Hall of Christ Episcopal Church, 428 Pee Dee Ave., Albemarle. Dues are $20 per year, which mostly pays for the pizza. They always welcome newcomers, whether experienced or not.

“There’s always someone to help,” said Beard.

Her friends agree. With demonstrations, programs and members ready to give encouragement, anyone can learn quilting skills. Even longtime members learn new things and find new inspiration.

For more information, email Trudy Jepsen at