40 years of quilting | February 5, 2021 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - February 5, 2021

40 years of quilting

Amador Valley Quilters learn, laugh, share — and make thousands of quilts to comfort others

by Story Dolores Fox Ciardelli. Photos Ryan J. Degan

Dorothy Maddox, now 83, was torn between two activities that Saturday, Feb. 14, 1981. Her quilting friends were holding the first gathering of the Amador Valley Quilters at Going to Pieces quilt store in Mission Plaza, but she was also expected at a wedding.

"It was an important wedding for me, so I stopped at the meeting between the wedding and the reception," Maddox said. "Then after the reception, I went back."

She had been a member of the East Bay Heritage Quilters, which met at night in Kensington, so was pleased to have a club at home.

"The timing was perfect for me," she said.

Maddox began sewing as a small child and continued into adulthood, when she was a teacher in Dublin.

"I started quilting in the '70s when one of the aides at my school brought in a quilt from Alaska," she recalled. "I loved it and said, 'I could do that.'"

As Maddox leafed through decades of club newsletters, she remembered traveling with quilting friends to shows in Houston and the state of Virginia. She said she has made her best friends from the group.

"Of the 13-14 that were there in 1981 when we started, there are still three of us that are members," she said. "I've only missed two or three meetings."

Amador Valley Quilters immediately took off, leading to decades of stitching, sharing ideas, and hosting guest speakers for monthly meetings and workshops. Now 40 years later, it has 400 members.

One of its "queen pin" ideas has been quilts for good causes, and each year members donate about 800 community quilts to women's shelters, youth homes and others. They have also made more than 175 Quilts of Valor for military veterans.

Publicity chairwoman Joanne Lenigan said she learned to sew from her mother and grandmother.

"When I was 4, my grandmother would give me scraps and I would sew them gleefully," she said. "At 5 my mother taught me to sew a button."

She sewed for her dolls and then herself, and she made her first quilt at around age 20, for somebody's baby.

"Then my parents, in 1999, were having their 50th anniversary," Lenigan recalled. "I saw a quilt in a magazine done with family photos, and I knew that was what I was going to make for them."

She found a place that transferred photos to paper to be ironed onto white cotton, which she planned to quilt in sections by family.

"I decided I needed to talk to some experts, so it was around 1998 that I joined Amador Valley Quilters," she said.

And Lenigan was hooked, especially by the infinite possibilities of rearranging familiar patterns in varying ways and color schemes. She has come to specialize in color.

"At the fair, the judges will comment, 'Fantastic use of color,' then maybe say, 'Try to keep your seams straight,'" Lenigan said with a laugh.

The club also has had "UFO" events, a quilters' term for "unfinished objects."

"We used to have these UFO nights that started at 6 in the evening and went until midnight," Lenigan remembered. "I attended as many as I could because with the craziness of my home I needed relatively uninterrupted sewing time. We would bring potluck and have a good old time."

"The friendships are amazing," she added. "That's been one of the biggest benefits, this incredible high of friendships that follows quilters around. You sit down and talk like you're sisters."

Some of them have made 400 or 500 quilts, she noted.

With COVID, high-tech members quickly established Zoom sessions, continuing on the second Saturday of each month, which draw about 120.

"We've always had speakers, some from far away so we had to arrange housing for them. They would fly in for the meeting and usually do a six-hour workshop on Sunday, at the Bothwell Center in Livermore," Lenigan said. "Now we have been doing the workshops virtually."

Jeanne Brophy, the guild's membership chairman, is a professional long-arm quilter. Quilts are made in three layers, she explained, the top where quilters piece the fabric together; the backing; and the batting sandwiched in between.

"They bring me their back and their top and I do the stitching that holds it together. I use decorative stitching to make my customers' work shine," Brophy said.

"I started quilting by mistake," she noted. "I used to work for Dublin Sewing Center. I watched the different sewing clubs, and I ended up teaching."

Then a friend suggested quilting and she found it fun, immediately tackling the biggest projects because she didn't know they would be hard. Eventually she purchased a long-arm quilting machine and started her business, Jeanne B Quiltz.

She joined Amador Valley Quilters in 2005.

"They were so welcoming," Brophy said. "I would define our guild as helpful, sharing and protective. Ask anybody a question about quilting and they will stop and give you an answer. They want to help."

She said a lot of club members are now in their 60s, but they joined when they had young families so meetings were held Saturdays.

"We used to call it Sacred Saturday — the husbands would babysit," she remembered.

Member Sandi Fisher said she began sewing as a young child with her grandmother on her treadle sewing machine.

"Then in the '70s I decided I would make a quilt," she recalled.

She has been a club member and making community quilts for many years, she said, and she now produces 12 to 15 a year.

"AVQ has a lot of friendship groups, small groups that break out and do their own thing," Fisher said. "The first and third Mondays we get together and sew for community quilts. The second and fourth we sew for veterans. I'm always busy on Mondays."

Fisher is currently making a quilt for her son's wedding in April.

"It's really fun because his fiancee is kind of old-fashioned but he is kind of modern — I love how it came together," she said.

Fisher also incorporates different trinkets into "crazy" or embellished quilts.

"I could never throw away a piece of jewelry that broke," she said, plus she will add embroidery threads, silk ribbons and beads.

Whenever anyone needs a certain swatch of fabric, they ask her. She's been the recipient of bags of scraps from people cleaning out relative's closets.

"People give you fabric when they know you sew," she said. "It's sinful how much I have."

Club members have used their vast supplies of fabric and their sewing expertise to make myriad masks since the pandemic began.

"Quilting is not limited to one style," Fisher said. "Modern quilters have a whole new take on quilting. Some I just hate, some I just love. But it is all creative and even if it is not how I think, it is fantastic that they are doing it."

Frances Griswell, 84, joined at about the third meeting, she recalled, which was held at a savings and loan on Main Street since the gathering had already outgrown the quilting shop.

"I was just making quilts for my kids and nieces and nephews at that point, nothing too elaborate," she said.

When Griswell retired from working at Cal State Hayward, she began quilting more intricately under the influence of other club members.

"Some women were getting into very complicated work, appliqued and so forth," she said. "We have everything in the world going now."

She still makes baby quilts since she has children's fabric she's collected through the years. And she has made full-sized bed quilts for her brother's five children as well as baby quilts for their anticipated children.

"I had made a wedding quilt for my one daughter who got married, and when her son got married I made one more big one. Just getting the binding on it almost killed me, but it was expected," she said with a laugh.

Griswell recalled the club searching for new venues throughout its 40 years, meeting at various churches in the area and even the Pleasanton City Council Chamber before finding a home at Pleasanton Middle School.

Last spring as sheltering in place continued, the quilters hung their creations outside their homes for passersby to enjoy, and the practice continues with Hang Your Quilts Day on the third Saturday of each month. If there are none in your neighborhood, check out the variety on display on Forest Hill Drive and Blackbird Drive.

The 40th anniversary meeting from 1:30-4 p.m. Feb. 13 will feature Sandra Johnson lecturing on "Denim Quilt Presentation." To learn more, visit www.amadorvalleyquilters.org.


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