The Pearl S. Buck Quilting Party began in 1996 on a stormy drive south in the middle of winter.
“Louise McNeel and I went to Jackson’s Mill to a three-day quilting party in March,” recalled Carroll Barlow, “and we got caught in a snowstorm. I was driving, and she was in her eighties. She sat up in the front seat and kept saying ‘We can’t do this again, Carroll.’
“By the time we got back to Marlinton, we had planned our own quilting party. That’s what we had gone to over there, and she said, ‘We’ll do ours in the summer.’ She was on the board at Pearl S. Buck at that time, so she got us in there. It was a traditional art, and they did want to perpetuate that, so it worked out nicely. It was that snowstorm that brought us to where we are now.”
Not wanting to interfere with the Little Levels Heritage Fair and Pioneer Days, Barlow and McNeel opted for the last weekend in July.
Originally, the gathering was small enough to be held at the Sydenstricker homestead. However, as the party grew in popularity, the need for a new space became apparent. Barlow, along with fellow party planners Linda Adams, Cheryl Taylor-Dean and Dawna Jo Hedrick, moved the gathering to the Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro.
“They’re glad to have us here,” said Barlow, “and we’re delighted to be here!”
The quilting party is held over a span of three days with a different class being taught each day. The classes differ every year and are open to a limited number of students.
“We had a waiting list this year for our classes,” said Barlow, “and we had to turn some people away.
“Our goal is to try and keep the cost low and make the classes affordable. The first two days are $15 each. Fran Kordek, the instructor we have on Saturday, is a national quilt judge, a certified appraiser, an instructor and a designer. The cost for Saturday’s class is $20.”
Once each student’s registration was confirmed, they received one-fourth of a yard of fabric–called a fat quarter–and a supply list. With their quarters, students quilted 12.5-inch blocks of their own design and brought them to class where they were then put together on a wall.
“On Saturday afternoon, we have a drawing,” Barlow explained. “The winner gets the first twenty blocks. They can put their sashing and their batting on and call it their Pearl S. Buck quilt. We’ve already got fifty-nine blocks. Last year we had around ninety. That means there were four winners of twenty blocks each, then we divide the odd ones into table runners and give them three blocks to do that. It adds a little perk. It gives them a little something to think about.”
Thursday and Friday’s classes also featured door prize drawings.
“Several of our vendors give us gifts,” said Barlow, “and the girls bring something in, too. We get some nice things. On Saturday afternoon, we also have a survivor drawing which means you have to have attended three sessions last year and three sessions this year to even have your name put in this pot.”
Each workshop, which focuses on a certain technique or pattern, is taught by a different instructor.
This year, the first workshop dealt with techniques using the walking foot and was taught by Betty Jo Williams, of Pence Springs.
“Today’s class happens to be Wild, Wonderful Walking Foot,” said Barlow, “which focuses on an attachment with the sewing machine that a lot of people don’t know how to use to full capability. We’re learning how to actually machine quilt our own projects. It’s strictly a techniques class today.”
“A walking foot is a specialized rubber foot,” Williams explained. “and the machine itself has metal feed dogs. When you put this [the walking foot] on top of that traction, it has traction and moves all the layers together whereas, if you just had a regular foot, the top layer wouldn’t move as quickly or as efficiently.
“You can quilt without it [the walking foot], but this makes it so that, when you’re quilting, the top layer doesn’t move and cause a bubble. It’s something to help a quilter have a finer product at the end.”
Williams made her first quilt in 1970 as a gift for her eldest child. However, it was not until 1996, when her youngest went off to college, that she truly began quilting.
“I did it because all three of my children went to college,” said Williams, “and I had time. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
When asked why she opted to teach a workshop, Williams gave credit to her time as a teacher.
“I was a teacher for thirty-some years,” Williams said. “I belong to two other quilt guilds, and I teach. They’ve asked me here twice. She [Barlow] asked me to do it last year, and I have a good time. I enjoy sharing.”
During the course of her teaching years, Williams held a dual certification in education and worked in both regular and special education.
“Primarily I worked in special education,” Williams explained. “It gave me a lot of patience to work with my advanced group back there. I enjoy it. These ladies have been very sweet to me and put up with my mistakes.”
The second workshop was taught by Juddylee Holbrook, of Lewisburg.
Unlike Williams’ technique workshop, Holbrook’s workshop introduced participants to the Dashing/Slashing Star within a Star pattern.
“The star is one of the most popular quilt patterns,” Barlow said. “In the early nineties, there was a documentation of quilting in West Virginia, and one of the most popular patterns in West Virginia was the star. Tomorrow, what we’re doing will be that. It’s interesting because our instructor told us we could go through our stash and cut a very basic pattern, but when you put it together, it creates a very beautiful thing.”
When it comes to creating the star in a star, it all comes down to the details. According to student Ellen Dale, the process can be a meticulous one.
“We have to cut fabric, size the squares, press them and then sew the fabric together,” Dale said. “You have to make sure that everything is straight and even. If you don’t, then they’re not going to match up.”
Holbrook began quilting in 1979 after a college friend introduced her to the art.
“I started by hand,” she recalled. “I did everything by hand, and I cut everything out with scissors. The rotary cutter was invented in 1979 for dressmakers, and quilters quickly adopted it. It revolutionized quilting. I probably wouldn’t be doing this today if it wasn’t for this. It’s like a pizza cutter for fabric. I wouldn’t be quilting if I was still cutting fabric out with scissors.”
Like Williams, teaching was second nature for Holbrook.
“At one time, I was a public school teacher,” Holbrook said. “When someone wants to know how to do something, I like to show them.”
Despite their fun, Barlow did express concern for those considering taking a class.
“These classes are not for beginners,” she warned. “You have to be an intermediate quilter or a very advanced beginner. I do all the registrations, and when I call, I try to explain that. I don’t want people to take a class and be upset that they can’t handle it.”
However, that does not mean beginners should give up their hopes of becoming quilters.
“They need to find a guild that they can belong to,” Williams said. “The people in the guild usually want people to join them, and we love it when we have boys and men. If you’re a beginner, you need to find a quilt guild. They’re everywhere.”
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” Holbrook added. “We all do a lot of those, and we redo. Just hang out with quilters, and you’ll feel at home.”