SOUTHWEST HARBOR — When Mary Vekasi moved to Mount Desert Island almost three decades ago, she was looking for a social circle. So she created one. She called it Island Quilters.
27 years later, the group is still going strong. Mostly made up of women who enjoy working with cloth and patterns, the group meets two times a month to share their latest creations and make pieces to donate to local charities.
Saturday morning, 16 members gathered, including the one male in the group, Co-President Tom Lee. Using the basement space at St. John the Divine in downtown Southwest Harbor, the group listened to a presentation by Vekasi on scraps, scrap rolls and different uses for the pieces that can tend to pile up during any sewing project.
She said quilting was a common practice in the south, especially among slaves or recently liberated slave women. Often these women built quilts from their clothes when they fell apart. Some did piece work for Sears, Roebuck and Company during its early days and they would have scraps from those projects.
One member of the group suggested each person bring in a basket of their scraps and share them with either one other person or the entire group for a creative challenge.
“As much as I don’t like to use my scraps, I’d love to use somebody else’s,” said Ruth Davis, who owns Quilt ‘n’ Fabric in Southwest Harbor.
She has been part of the group of quilters for seven years, about as long as she has owned her own fabric shop.
“This is how I got to meet a whole bunch of people,” said Davis. “Most of us like to do sewing together.”
Kathe McDonald has been a member of Island Quilters for about eight years, but has been crafting the covers for much longer.
“I’ve made quilts probably for… I don’t even want to think about how long,” said McDonald as she cut squares for a new one. “Without this group I’d be working by myself all the time… I don’t work with patterns. I mostly wing it. I enjoy being around people who do [use patterns].”
McDonald said she does most of her sewing during the winter months. During the summer season, she runs a gift shop in downtown Southwest Harbor. There, she sells potholders she has created, mostly with scraps from her other projects. Some years she has made and sold as many as 150 potholders.
At the beginning of the bi-monthly meeting, Vekasi mentions the stock of baby quilts the group donates to the ward at MDI hospital when the supply there is running low. In addition to donating their work for local newborns to snuggle in, the quilters have also begun donating quilts to Ellsworth nonprofit Families First. That organization assists homeless women and children and will take quilts for babies, cribs and single beds.
Each May, Island Quilters hosts a quilt show to display their wares and potholders made by the members are given with the price of admission. Bi-monthly meetings take place the second and fourth Wednesday of the month and are typically at Mount Desert Island High School from 7 – 9 p.m.
Each meeting has a specific format in which members can share their latest projects and talk about new mentors, patterns and ideas they’ve come across.
“We always have show-and-tell every meeting,” Vekasi said as each member of the group reveals different cloth-connected items.
One member recently traveled to China and returned with different pieces of silk. Another was cleaning out a family property and discovered several pieces of redwork, an embroidery method using only red thread. Although it was not clear when the pieces were made, some in the group suggested they could be 100 years old.
Quilting is a craft that has been around for centuries, as long as people have been sewing their own clothes, but one member of the group believes there was a revival in the art around the mid-1970s.
“If you make a quilt with 1,000 different pieces of fabric,” Vekasi says during her presentation, “your life is charmed when you sleep under it.”