The quilts at the 43rd Annual Mountain Heirloom Quilt Faire (Oct. 29-30 at the Alhambra Music Room at Ironstone Vineyards) wrapped visitors in a feeling of intimacy the moment they walked in.

The room was sectioned into gallery spaces divided by 9-foot-tall panels covered in spotless drapes of white cotton. All bright sound was muffled by fabric. The scent of freshly laundered cloth filled the room.

But to describe the scene as hushed would belie the dizzying array of quilts that filled the room with eye candy. Images of colorful elephants, a wolf and a sea otter floated; a blue star shone against an orange ombre background; red flowers patterned a field of white and yellow; abstract squares flashed rainbow hues. Nearly 100 quilts of all styles, colors and sizes, from lap size to wall size, filled the hall. The room hummed with activity as members of the Independence Hall Quilters, the group that has been presenting the quilt show since 1977, rushed about hanging quilts, steaming drapery, attaching labels, and arranging displays.

The swirl of patterns and color lured the viewer, but Dana Osterlund, this year’s chairperson, intercepted, and introduced members Joanne Padelford and Joan Patterson. They bubbled over with joy as they spoke about the quilting guild.

The Independence Hall Quilters in Arnold have been transforming cloth into quilts for 43 years (Padelford joined in 1988, and Patterson joined in 1996). The quilters meet on Mondays at the Independence Hall in Arnold, each bringing a project-in-progress while they schmooze in traditional quilting bee fashion.

“It's so much fun to watch everybody else and see what they're doing,” Patterson said. “It's just great fun. You learn, too. Sometimes we have a project, but you can do anything you want."

Members share their skills with other members and bring completed work for show and tell, said Padelford. "If you made something, it’s displayed on the wall. And everybody goes, 'Oh, look what she did!' You get to show your work.”

"There are a lot of friends that you make,” added Patterson. “They love quilting, and it's very open. When we come on Monday morning, you're going around talking to everybody and seeing what they've made and what they're doing. It's like old home week."

“Plus there’s free coffee," quipped Padelford.

It was from this group that the quilt faire grew. In 1975, a group of quilters combined their skill with needle, cloth and thread to create a bicentennial quilt celebrating Calaveras County. Padelford and Patterson led me to the enormous artwork, and pointed out details.

On a golden yellow background, a bald eagle holds a ribbon that swirls across the top of the quilt, capping 20 panels depicting quilted scenes of Calaveras County, including the Murphys Congregational Church, the Milton Railway Station, the Copperopolis Armory, and a portrait of Bret Hart and Mark Twain. In the center are two bicentennial medallions stitched in gold —one with California’s golden bear and the other with a giant sequoia. Framing the panels, tiny hand-sewn stitches pick out more scenes from Calaveras County.

This year the quilt fair was dedicated to one of the founding members, Mary Lou Humber, who worked on the bicentennial quilt. Both Padelford and Patterson spoke with great respect for Humber, who recently passed away. They remembered her generosity in teaching quilting skills, as well as her encouragement to all her students.

That generosity of spirit infuses the Independence Hall Quilters. Not content to make only personal quilts, the group donates comfort quilts to hospitals and service organizations for families in need, as well as adult services. They make quilts and pillow cases for foster children, and every year raffle off a handmade quilt (this year made by three quilters: Jinny Beyer, Susan Scott, and Jennifer Cabral) to provide scholarships for local high school students. At the boutique next to the hall, handmade items donated by members help support the quilting guild.

It’s no surprise that such an art has so much heart. Quilting takes old-school time to plan, measure, cut fabric, iron, sew, and stitch all the parts together. It’s a meditation. Every quilt in the show is created with loving care, and is deeply personal, from the Biker’s Quilt by Jodi Lea Greenfield, made from logos and graphics from her husband’s t-shirts, to the antique wedding quilt submitted by Robyn Slakey.

Traditionally a woman’s “folk” craft, quilting is finally taking its place among the arts. When asked what they love about quilting, Padelford and Patterson answered together, without missing a beat: “The creativity!”

Patterson smiled. “It’s like painting with the needle. You can be creative. You can do whatever you want.”

The Independence Heirloom Quilt Faire normally takes place every year during October and includes the quilt show, a boutique, and quilting supply vendors. Find out more about the Independence Hall Quilters at their website, www.ihquilters.com. They meet every Monday morning unless the weather is bad.

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