Anchorage's not-so-different quilter

There was something different about one of the quilters at the monthly Guild meeting. There among all the women oohing and aahing at a "show and tell" presentation.

It was pretty obvious.

It was a guy.

The Anchorage Log Cabin Quilters Guild has about 150 female members-and George Taylor, who seems puzzled when you ask him why he wants to hang out with a room full of women.

Well, OK. That's probably a stupid question. George, now in his 70s, just smiles.

In the public imagination, "quilters" are old ladies gathered around a huge quilt frametusually pictured outdoors- stitching earnestly to finish the latest bed cover. All very vintage, very 19th century.

But today, in the 21st century, quilters range from casual piecers of fabric scraps to international artists producing improvisational museum quality work. And men are among the best-known artists in the field-men like Kaffe Fassett, possibly the most recognizable fabric designer working today. Or Ricky Tims, who brought his workshop to Alaska a couple years ago and wins international awards for his amazing quilts.

Lucky for all of us, an infinite variety of local creativity will be on exhibit in Anchorage, for free, at the Great Alaska Quilt Show, Sept. 9 and 10, at the First United Methodist Church on W. 9th Avenue at G Street, right on the Park Strip.

Every quilter has a story about how they first decided it was a good idea to spend hours, days, even years sewing tiny pieces of fabric together, often after first cutting the same fabric into the tiny pieces. But George's story is even more legendary than the ladies around the quilt frame: He made his first quilt from flour sacks.

No, he wasn't living in some 1890s backwater, too poor to afford store-bought cotton. It was the 1960s. He was living in Anchorage, working for the in-house bakery at a local supermarket, watching them dump flour out of cotton sacks. All that cotton, in danger of going to waste. It stirred the urge that cannot be denied. He salvaged the sacks and made a quilt.

When he began to get serious about quilting, he asked a friend who had been piecing for a while if she had any spare scraps he could use. (Quilters: you can laugh here.) She filled his car trunk with bags of them.

"I made three 90" by 108" quilts," he recalled. Then gave them away.

For artists like George, quilting is more than a hobby. It's what he does with his life. Why was he attracted to it?

"I have no idea," he says.

But it's fun to speculate: Perhaps he inherited a yen to piece things together from his father, a journeyman carpenter. Perhaps the fact that, after working a dozen different jobs as a youth-waiter, grocery store clerk, truck driver, tug boat crew, busboy at The Whale's Tale, a printer for five years, a Chinese restaurant-after all that, he went back to school and became a draftsman for the Alaska Dept. of Transportation for 27 years.

And what does a draftsman do? "Generate designs and drawings," "calculate dimensions," "create layouts," get the "scale" right. Sounds familiar to anyone with a sewing machine and a rotary cutter.

Over the years, George's quilts have been featured in more than a dozen books, many by celebrated artists-Mary Mashuta, Judy Hopkins and Roberta Horton, to name a few.

Great Alaska Quilt Show, Sept. 9-10

First United Methodist Church

W. 9th Avenue at G Street

Hundreds of local quilters, including George Taylor, have shared their art in the 33-year history of the Great Alaska Quilt Show. And a whole lot of them will be doing so again on Sept. 9 and 10.

As usual, the show will feature the entire range of quilts, from beginners sewing squares into classic patterns to artists with skill and imagination that amazes. It's not a sale, it's a show. For visitors who just have to buy something, one quilt will be raffled off and there will be a small-quilt silent auction.

Did we mention admission and parking are free?