From the rag quilts made by the Gulllah to modern-day works of fiber art, quilting is woven into the Lowcountry’s rich and colorful history.
By patching together heritage, camaraderie, community and even politics and current events with the fine thread of artistry, quilts provide a tangible representation of a culture, and our local artisans continue this legacy with organizations like the Palmetto Quilt Guild.
“We all come from different backgrounds,” says guild member Peg Weschke. “And yet when we come together and quilt, so many interesting topics come up. When you think about all the things you love to sit down and talk about, a quilter is that person you can have that conversation with.”
These gatherings, or quilting bees, have been held for centuries and are intertwined with history. “During Colonial times, fabric came from England so only the wealthy had access to the nice fabrics. Many of the quilts then, came from shipping materials like flour sacks until the cotton gin was invented,” Weschke says. And even back then, there was a distinction between quilting as a craft and as an art. “The quilts that were intended to be a household object were an example of craft. But the ones only brought out for guests, these were works of art.”
Weschke and other members of the Palmetto Quilt Guild, as well as members of other guilds like the Sea Island Quilters in Beaufort, the Savannah Quilt Guild, the May River Quilt Guild and the Cobblestone Quilters, are working to highlight the artistic expression plaited into quilting.
“Everyone thinks they know quilts. That’s the good news and the bad news,” Weschke says. “Everyone loves quilts because they relate to family and home. But people are bored by quilts because it’s what grandma makes. But our quilts aren’t your grandmas quilts.”
Quilting used to be viewed as “women’s work,” and it was only recently that they could be found hanging in museums or sought after by collectors. Weschke points to Lucinda Ward Honstain’s “Reconciliation Quilt,” made in 1867, as an example of a quilt that represents both quality workmanship and culture. Today, that craftsmanship is being rewarded. Recently, Weschke’s “You Go Girls” quilt won the People’s Choice Award at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina’s “Anything Goes.”
“Three years ago, the arts center would not have hung a quilt, so I couldn’t believe I won,” Weschke says, and says she is excited about the new trends in quilting. “The definition of quilting is sewing together a top, battening and a back. But there are so many techniques and materials that can be used to do this.”
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Palmetto Quilt Guild is holding its 13th biennial Quilt Show from March 11 through March 13 at Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis Resort. The show will feature more than 200 quilts and includes a vendor mall, gift shop, consignment shop and silent auction raffle for a queen-size quilt. “The quilt festival will be a colorful display of 17 different categories, ranging from traditional to contemporary and including anything from pieced or appliquéd bed quilts to wall hangings and original art and innovative design,” Weschke said.
Showcasing guild members’ pieces, the show also celebrates members’ hard work, including hosting educational opportunities in the quilting arts and performing community service. The guild has donated more than 300 lap- and twin-size quilts to local charities like Bluffton Self Help, The Deep Well Project, Pregnancy Crisis Center, CODA, CAPA and the Sandalwood Food Pantry, as well as raffled quilts for charities like Heroes on Horseback and Wounded Warriors. Outreach efforts include education, service and entertainment to Programs for Exceptional People, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry, veterans in Walterboro and at Walter Reed, Memory Matters, retirement homes and the public school. And each year, the guild awards a $2,000 scholarship to a Beaufort County senior planning to study visual arts in college.