BOW VALLEY – A homemade quilt represents something we can all use right now: comfort and security.
As they begin the new year, the Mountain Cabin Quilters Guild aims to share its work with the community through its Hugs Quilts, Touch Quilts and YWCA Tote Bag projects. Even as the celebration of an important milestone gets put on the backburner.
“This is our 25th anniversary of the guild. We started out with just six members, and of those six members three of them are still with the guild,” said president Deb Boutilier Gerrie.
Twenty-five years is a big deal for any organization, but coronavirus restrictions have made planning a celebration problematic, so the focus has been on ongoing projects and the introduction of online presentations via Zoom.
“It’s been a difficult year for us to do special events,” Boutilier Gerrie said. “We are doing a silver and blue quilt, that will be a memento for our anniversary, and we’ve been doing a lot of education within the group so that people can learn more about the techniques.”
Silver Strong – 25 Years, the anniversary quilt to be completed in April, is made up of individual blocks created by members that will be pieced together to form a larger work commemorating the occasion.
“We have [also] been concentrating on the donations that we make with the Hugs Quilts, which is what we give to the chemotherapy department of the Canmore Hospital,” Boutilier Gerrie said.
In the last 10 years, over 200 quilts have been gifted to the hospital. The guild also works closely with the St. Michael’s Women’s Church Guild to provide tote bags for the YWCA’s women’s shelter.
The homemade tote bags come complete with toiletries and other necessities and highlights the comfort and support the guild offers to the more vulnerable members of the community. Something the group has been doing from the start.
Sharon Moore is the education lead at the guild and has a special connection to the Touch Quilts, a project that started five years ago and was inspired by her experience as Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Health Disciplines at Athabasca University.
“I was heading up a research project that looked at the use of touch quilts with residents living with dementia,” Moore said. “So, I pitched the idea to the quilt guild when we were talking in our education committee [meeting] and they said, ‘this would be a great challenge for us to take on.’ ”
The small quilts can be laid out on a table, or put on someone’s lap, and the design often incorporates small zippers or pockets as well as a variety of themes.
“Some of the research has shown that these quilts can help to calm people when they’re really restless, or to provide some stimulation,” Moore said.
In that first year it was hoped that 36 quilts would be produced, but in the end the group managed to create 42 quilts.
Membership at the guild fluctuates depending on the year, and there are currently 63 active quilters, as well as two honorary members who are over 90 years old.
“We are in the process of recruiting people and are hoping that they understand they can attend meetings by Zoom, because a lot of folks think things have just fallen off the grid,” Boutilier Gerrie said.
“We’ve certainly had a lot of feedback from members about how much they love it, and how grateful they are to be able to come out to a meeting. We’ve been running them by Zoom since last fall,” Moore added, while noting that up to 57 people at a time have attended the online meetings.
“We just had our January meeting a couple of nights ago and we had a speaker from Winnipeg,” Moore continued. “She had been with us in person a couple of years ago. People loved her, she did a fabulous presentation on art and mental health, and then [did] a workshop the following day.”
After a steep learning curve people in the guild are getting comfortable with the Zoom platform, and meetings are now started a half an hour early so members can get together to talk or show their progress on quilts before the scheduled meeting begins.
“I’ve been just amazed at how well everybody’s responded to it,” Boutilier Gerrie said. “Even some of the older women in the guild have been able to get help and get onto Zoom, and they’ve been thrilled to be able to see people and chat with them.
“And as Sharon just mentioned we had the speaker dealing with mental health issues. The guild goes beyond just sewing little quilts, so the mental health part is a big thing, and we’re always looking forward to new ways to expand our craft. Art quilts is also one of the things that we do, and we have a big show for that, usually every March, called the Visions Show.”
Because of COVID-19 concerns the Visions Show is going virtual this year, and online presentations continue until June, when the guild takes a break for the summer.
Local artist Colleen Campbell will give a presentation called Finding Ways to Understand Colour in February, and Peter Byrne delivers Behind the Seams from Toronto in March. In April, five members of the guild will take turns talking about a quilt with special meaning to them in Every Quilt Tells a Story. In May, Helen Godden, an art quilter from Canberra, Australia, delivers My Top 10 Art Quilt Techniques.
“I think what it’s allowed us to do is to be able to use speakers that we might not normally be able to,” Moore said.
"Because of the cost of travel and the extra step of getting a work visa if a presenter is from out of the country, the online platform is offering more options to the guild. So, Zoom is allowing us to really reach out and use some of those folks … This whole crisis of being locked down has given us some opportunities that we wouldn’t have necessarily thought of.”
“And they might become things that we will continue,” Boutilier Gerrie added, “even once we get back into meetings with all of our group. We can have speakers and workshops by Zoom. It works. People enjoy it.”
Visit mountaincabinquilters.ca for more information on upcoming speakers and workshops, on becoming a member, or to purchase a ticket for the annual quilt raffle giveaway.
This year’s quilt is called Colourful Canmore, designed by Katie Larson and created by Sheila Hills, Pamela Yonge, Linda Sydney and Helene Villeneuve. Proceeds from the raffle go to funding programs and supplies for the guild.