Mt. Airy Arts Garage holds second Quiltapalooza

On Friday evening, Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG) welcomed a wild party – or at least a wildly colored one. The last night of August saw MAAG’s second Quiltapalooza, a four-hour fabric free-for-all that has seen an enthusiastic neighborhood response.

“These women are so into it,” said Mt. Airy Art Garage co-founder Linda Slodki of MAAG’s quilting enthusiasts. “They look like gunslingers – they’ve got a machine in each hand.”

Slodki, along with her partner and MAAG co-founder Arleen Olshan, was enjoying the scene on Friday. A full box of chocolate-iced cupcakes stood open on the potluck refreshment table, but no-one was snacking. A diverse group of about fifteen women bent over several tables amid a happy hum of conversation and sewing machines.

“We just quilt for the love of it,” said participant Leslie Garrett, bent over the zany beginnings of a string quilt, whose squares are made of thin, diagonally-placed strips. When all the squares of the quilt are finished, they can be arranged in whatever way the quilter desires, each set of four squares making a kaleidoscopic diamond.

Garrett’s friend Evette Wilson, also mastering the art of the string quilt, was glad it was the start of the Labor Day weekend. “We could quilt all night,” she said contentedly. Garret and Wilson were entranced by the variety of fabrics to choose from, and appreciated the way the string quilt can reclaim the cast-off remnants of other projects.

Quilting teacher Sarah Bond, who provided a large box of fabric pieces to all, presides over MAAG’s Quiltapaloozas. A financial manager by day and a quilter by night, Bond estimates that she’s made about 50 quilts over a 30-year span.

Many of her MAAG students praised her friendly, accessible techniques.

“When you break them down into little bits, they’re doable,” Bond said of even the most complex-seeming quilt designs. With a flair for adding her own twist to classic quilt designs, Bond particularly enjoys the chance to make a complex project understandable to her students.

“Each of those scraps tells a story,” said quilter Rosemarie Stuart on why she likes the art form so much.

Bond agreed, especially since she took up the hobby independently, only to find out that quilting runs deep in her family. Her own great-great grandmother, it turns out, was one of a very few documented American slave quilters. A quilt her great-great grandmother sewed shortly after the end of the Civil War recently made its way into Bond’s hands.

“Quilts are art and material culture,” Bond said, explaining why, to her, quilting has even more to offer than many other art forms. “It’s important that my quilts are functional” as well as beautiful.

Slodki noted that some quilters downplay their role in the arts world. “Many quilters don’t think of themselves as artists, which they are.”

“I wonder which I like more, quilting or collecting the fabric,” said participant Janet Meyers, who also leads MAAG’s monthly quilting club. Last month, the club was thrilled to welcome its first male quilter. 

“I enjoy learning different techniques,” Meyers said. “That’s why I’m here. I don’t ever feel like I’ll be an accomplished quilter, because there’s always something else to learn.”

Meyers laid out the completed squares of her own in-progress string quilt, rearranging them at will to see which color combinations were most pleasing. “Every one I do, I think, oh, this is my favorite one. And then I do another,” she laughed. She finds string quilts a refreshing break from the necessary planning and repetitive cut-outs of other quilt varieties, which require commitment to the pattern from start to finish.

String quilts are more laid-back and improvisational – the perfect work to bring when you’re sitting down with friends. “It’s like a jazz quilt,” she said of her own free-flowing design.

Bond, a longtime Mt. Airy resident, has been surprised to see how many avid quilters there are in the neighborhood. When MAAG began drawing them together for events, “so many quilters came out of the woodwork,” she said. “I never knew!”

“It’s a hoot,” Bond added of the Quiltapaloozas, insisting that quilting is highly addictive: once you start, you can’t stop.

“Maybe if we’re really quiet, we won’t have to go home at ten o’clock.”

MAAG’s Quilting Club, originally scheduled for September 22, has been postponed until October because of the upcoming silent auction fundraiser.

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