It ain't your grandma's quilt bee anymore
August 1, 2022 | View PDF
Unless you quilt yourself, or work for one of the city's help agencies, you may not know Anchorage Log Cabin Quilters (ALCQ). Created 43 years ago by a handful of women drawn to making art out of fabric, ALCQ is one of a dozen quilt guilds in Alaska. It lists 150 members, leases permanent workspace, and fosters every imaginable creative quirk, dream and fantasy of its community-focused membership.
And, oh yes, members believe in having a good time doing it.
They'll teach you to make a quilt if you don't know how or they'll ooh and ahh over your latest work - even if your seams aren't quite straight and your shapes are, hmmm, shall we say "eccentric"?
Members can quilt for themselves but much of the group's work gets donated to more than a dozen local agencies - public and private - the kind of agencies where people in trouble land: AWAIC, Clare House, Alzheimer's Resource of Alaska, Passage House, Providence Hospital, etc.
Lynne Seitz, who organizes the donation quilts, estimates the group gives away more than 300 a year. And that doesn't count a zillion Christmas stockings.
Bethany Burgess is clinical director for Hospice of Anchorage, a support group for people with "life limiting illness." They have a long-standing connection to ALCQ, she said. "They've been donating for many years."
"A lot of our folks feel pretty alone," Burgess said. Giving them something obviously hand-made, something beautiful, "It brings joy into the home . . . physically and emotionally."
Most ALCQ meetings are held during the day so most members are retired women - and a few men - many looking to make new social connections after leaving the workforce. Meetings are reliably upbeat.
"People need to find a way to make new friends," said Peggy Brewer, the current president; she joined in 2011 when she retired. Plus, "I just wanted to sew and enjoy myself," she said.
Brewer gives most of her quilts away; others sell them or hold on to them, unable to part with their creations. Member Diana Bradley, a teacher and artist, retired after 30 years in the fabric business, admits she once had 80 of her quilts at home.
"I usually have four or five going at the same time," said Bradley, ALCQ vice-president. A complicated landscape design can take her two years. "There's just so much of me in them I don't want to give them away."
At the other end of the spectrum, Karla Shaw specializes in what the group calls "comfort quilts" - those destined for charity. But she only does the final step on other members' creations.
"I don't like to sew the little pieces together," she explained. "My joy is doing the binding . . . Everyone does the step they like."
These days, members are focused on organizing their annual quilt show, returning after two years' absence due to the pandemic.
The Great Alaska Quilt Show is set for Saturday and Sunday, September 17 and 18 at First United Methodist Church on W. 9th Avenue - a new location, which has organizers worried that fans might not find them.
The show traditionally features more than 100 quilts, from basic bedcovers or wall hangings produced by novices to oh-my-god wonders by nationally known fabric artists. Admission is free. Visitors can bid for a small art quilt if they want, or buy a raffle ticket for this year's big, amazing work of art. Or just marvel at the range of design and workmanship on display.
The September quilt show is not juried, which means any member who wants to exhibit a quilt they made may do so. The no-judging is deliberate, Brewer said. They want potential members to know they are welcome regardless of their skill level.
Ask a bunch of quilters how they got started, why they chose to buy sometimes-expensive fabric, cut it into small pieces, then sew the pieces back together - instead of, say, scrapbooking or origami.
Most say their mother or a grandmother taught them to sew, often clothing. Making quilts was a natural next step, sometimes a necessity.
"Quilts were needed on beds," said Kate Beebe, ALCQ education chair.
But for some, the "next step" was a pleasure that's hard to explain to someone who hasn't been snared by the endorphin glow of finishing a quilt you've put your heart into.
This history raises a difficult question: How many mothers sew these days? How many make clothing? How many have time? By 2014, about 70% of mothers with children under the age of 18 worked outside the home, up from 47% in 1975, according to the Pew Research Center.
If no one is teaching the next generation how to sew, where will future quilters come from? Is quilting a dying art? Not if Anchorage Log Cabin Quilters have anything to say about it.
The Great Alaska Quilt Show
New location in Anchorage: United Methodist Church
on the Park Strip at 9th and G Street
September 17 and 18, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.