Careful stitches form strong bonds

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For at least a dozen years, the members of Socorro’s Fiber Arts Guild have met together to give form and expression to their creative impulses, to share techniques and to luxuriate in a riot of colors and textures. Lately, they’ve been meeting on the second Saturday of every month in Janet Elwood’s “playhouse,” surrounded by her stashes of fabrics, yarns, needles and hooks.

“We start at 10, and have a short meeting,” Elwood said. “Then we usually have some short instructional classes, more like demonstrations. And we sit and chit chat a lot.”

The meetings cover every possible skill in the fiber spectrum, from knitting, crocheting, embroidery and beading, to spinning, dyeing, weaving and felting. And of course, quilting.

In the past, because there have been so many members with such a wide range of talents and abilities to draw on, the guild has been content to look no farther than the local community for teachers. This year, however, they’re getting their nerve up to take a big step forward and invite well-known fabric artists from far afield to come to Socorro.

Quilting enthusiasts will be familiar with the name of Ricky Tims, the internationally famous quiltmaker — and musician — who co-hosts “The Quilt Show” with Alex Anderson. He’s currently on a world quilting tour, giving seminars in 11 countries from Russia and Kazakhstan to Switzerland and the Czech Republic. When he’s recovered from that a little, he’ll be coming to Socorro, thanks to the Fiber Arts Guild, or maybe, more accurately, thanks to long-time member Norma Lorang.

Tims has a studio in La Veta, Colo. Lorang happened to be passing that way, stopped in, and told the people there how much she’d love for Tims to be able to come to Socorro.

“They were ready to come if the quilt group was ready to do what it would take to get it set up,” Lorang said.

Due to Tims’ popularity among quilters, the guild had to find a place that could hold at least 600 people. They settled on New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center, and booked it for Aug. 24 and 25. Registration costs $179, or $149 for people who register before June 16. People who just want to attend the evening presentation on Friday night, but don’t want to register for the whole seminar, will be able to get in the door for $15.

“It costs $600 to bring him to town,” Lorang said. “If we can break even, we’ll try it again.”

In the meantime, the Fiber Arts Guild is holding a smaller, more intimate seminar. In April, they’re bringing in another well-known quilt artist and fabric designer, J. Michelle Watts. Watts, known for her southwestern fabrics and patterns, will conduct a one-day session on stenciling quilt blocks. The registration fee is $30, and some supplies will be needed.

Even smaller and more intimate is the guild’s annual two-day Quilting 101 workshop on March 17 and 31, also at Epiphany Episcopal Church. The class size is limited to just 12 people, and that one only costs $15.

Helping Hands

When the members of the Fiber Arts Guild aren’t sharing knowledge or working on individual projects, they’re likely to be working together on behalf of the community.

Once every year the guild decides on a worthy cause and an appropriate pattern, chooses colors and fabrics, and makes a quilt to give away. They’ve donated quilts to the Socorro Storehouse, the Good Samaritan Society-Socorro, the Magdalena Library and the Literacy Guild. Sometimes the quilts end up being displayed, but usually they’re raffled off to raise money. The latest quilt, a “Nickle” pattern made of five inch red, white, and blue squares set on the diagonal, has been donated to the Disabled American Veterans, who plan to raffle it off to raise funds for the new Isidro Baca Veterans Park.

“Some have been shown and raffled at the county fair,” Lorang said. “Another goal of ours is to encourage people to display things they have made, to help keep the fair going and even to help expand it.”

In support of the fair, volunteers from the guild help set up exhibits, answer questions and do demonstrations.

“We have demonstrated drop spindles, floor spinning wheels, we’ve knitted socks, we’ve pinned and basted a quilt top,” said Jane Apps, another of the guild’s long-time members.

They also keep an eye on the displays, to make sure that people’s entries are kept safe and clean.

“Another thing we’re trying to do with our programs is to keep things going in all the disciplines,” Lorang said. “Our goal is, if we get enough membership, we could wind up with a dedicated group of knitters, and another group of crocheters, and so on.”

“If we can become a community guild — and if we can find what it takes to fulfill all of us,” Elwood added.

Finding fulfillment in fiber and fabric isn’t a stretch. The immense satisfaction found in taking crafts that may have arisen from necessity and thrift and elevating them to a form of self-expression and an art is familiar to anyone who has worked with their hands. There’s the tactile element, from the heft of the tools to the feel of the project as it takes form. There’s the soothing aspect of busy hands and repetitive motions. Most of all, for some, there’s the joy of combining colors.

“The best part for me is laying colors side by side, moving them around and seeing how they work together,” Lois Bowman, a quilter, said. “That’s the most exciting thing.”

Lorang and Elwood are also primarily quilters.

“I’ve tried it all, and I know what I love best,” Lorang said. “The little bit of time I have to spend, I want to spend it quilting.”

All of the guild’s approximately two dozen members bring something different to the group.

Laila Sturgis, a young mother who has just finished making a “Rail Fence” patterned quilt to donate to the humane society, brings youthful energy and networking expertise.

“Laila brought it to our attention that we needed a Facebook page, so she volunteered to make one,” Lorang said.

Cleo Montgomery, in her 80s, represents the other end of the spectrum, with wisdom born of patience and perspective.

“Cleo is a master handquilter — and a great encourager,” Lorang said.

Encouraging and inspiring each other is what the group is really about.

“We have fun. We do. We have a lot of fun,” Elwood said. “We’re nice people.”

“One of the things that’s the most fun is the show and tell,” Apps said. “We like to help people to show what they’ve made, and get inspired by it.”

Some of the best inspiration comes from expressions of caring and love.

“We had one woman who wanted to learn to quilt because she wanted to be able to use pieces of her husband’s shirts in quilts for all of her children,” Lorang said. “I think quilting, it’s something from the heart.”

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.