November 20, 2011 by Renee Reed
By Renee Reed
WEST FORK — At one time, it would have been easy to find a group of women around a quilting frame, bent over and focused on tiny stitches as they worked away making beautiful quilts. They would be discussing families, politics and the moments of their days as they created a lasting work of art and comfort for loved ones.
Though these times long gone for the most part, there is still one such treasure in West Fork. Every Thursday morning, a gathering of skilled, dedicated and creative women set up the frames and indulges in the weekly ritual of pinning up the quilts. .
The members of the West Fork Quilting Club take a finished top piece basted to batting and base and stretch it out on a wooden frame. They pin it in place then take a seat around the frame and begin to quilt. It takes approximately three months to complete a quilt.
The quilts that these ladies sew are made only for themselves. As a group, they do not quilt for fundraisers or sew donation quilts. The quilting is something that they do as gifts of time for each other. Many members of the club do participate as individuals in charitable activities, such as creating sleeping bag quilts for the homeless and donating their quilts to other charities.
After a quilter has been a member for one year, they may bring one of their own pieces to be quilted by the club. They also earn the privilege of making and receiving a friendship quilt square from each of the other members of the group. With all these squares, the member can piece them together and make a new friendship quilt top of her very own.
Blanche Burris has been quilting the longest and, at 87, holds the prestigious position of eldest member of the club. Burris was born in the Trace Valley Community just 10 miles east of West Fork. She remembers learning to sew and make quilts as a young child.
“We lived with my grandmother, Nancy McGee, when I was a child and she had me working of quilts at around six or seven years old,” Burris said. “We all did it that way. I was born in this area, learned to quilt here, raised my family here and I am still here quilting whenever I can.”
Rita Boydstun remembers fondly the quilts that her mother, Blanche Burris, has made for her and other family members.
”Mom is very, very selective when she gives away a quilt. She only gives one on the occasions of a birth, high school graduation or marriage,” Boydstun said. “My favorite quilt that she made for me was created with many of my old dresses. It was extra special to me because it had those sentimental memories attached to it.”
As the youngest child, Boydstun has seen her mother make all patterns of quilts. “What I like best about her quilts is that she makes them all by hand, from beginning to end,” said Boydstun.
Bonnie Steffes is the president of the West Fork Quilting Club. One early morning in April 1991, Steffes woke up and said, “I am going to have a quilt club.” She called up all the ladies she knew that might be interested and they agreed to meet in a private home for the first of 20 years worth of quilting meetings.
The club grew and ended up sewing in the upstairs of the First Baptist Church Activity Center for years. When the West Fork Community Center started, the club moved into the new spacious area. Though they usually only put up two frames at each meeting, they have been known to set up three when the club has more members arrive.
“I have tried for years to pass on the president’s position to other quilters, but they won’t let me,” laughed Steffes. “We do have a lot of fun. Our two-dollar monthly dues fund our trips to local quilt fairs and our holiday parties.”
The club members are quick to help a new quilter by teaching them the basic stitches and even sharing quilting books and ideas. On an average meeting day, one may find as many as 15 ladies busy working around the frames swapping stories and catching up with each other.
If you are interested in visiting or joining the West Fork Quilting Club, it meets every Thursday morning from 9:00 to 11:00 or until the senior meal lunches are delivered to the community center.
“If you would like to quilt with us, please bring scissors, a thimble and a number ten needle and something to put them in,” Steffe said. “We love having new folks join us.”