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Quilting fair tries to keep tradition alive

Quilting is often an intergenerational activity, with children joining their mothers and grandmothers to sew together.
"Basket Mary" sells handwoven baskets that support education for women in Africa.

Quilting enthusiasts from all over the United States descended on the Boulder County fairgrounds over the weekend. The Colorado Quilting Council’s annual Quilt-a-Fair attracted an estimated 2,300 visitors over three days and featured hundreds of unique quilts on display. Site coordinator Dawn Mills explained that the show is a way to sew good into the community – one stitch at a time.

“It started as a way for people to sell their wares and, before the internet, it was a way for people to teach the art of quilting to others. Now, we’re more focused on ways to keep quilting going so it doesn’t die out,” Mills explained.

Mills’ own quilting journey began when she was 12 years old. She watched her mother, along with five other ladies, start the Colorado Quilting Council. 

“Most are gone now, but the rest of us have kept it going,” she said.  

Quilting is often an intergenerational activity, with children joining their mothers and grandmothers to sew together. Quilting guilds have popped up all over the country, YouTube channels feature patterns and tutorials, and you can find live streaming conversations about techniques and ideas for quilts.

Monica from the Creative Needle in Lakewood became a self-taught quilter years ago. She made her first quilt for her nephew when he was a baby, and has been hooked ever since. Her son, Sean, is learning the basics and her daughter, Anna, is practiced in a form of the art called “long-arm quilting.” 

“It lets us create these really different thread designs and patterns,” Anna explained, gesturing to the wall of colorful quilts she had on display.

The enthusiasm for needlecraft was palpable. Shows like this one brings together hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and unique representations of the art.

Mary Ogwel sat in a booth surrounded by handwoven baskets and brightly colored bowls made of thread and tiny glass beads. She had stacks of fabric at her feet and lining the walls of her booth. “Basket Mary” as she is known by the regulars at these shows started her business as a promise to her dying mother to help women in Kenya get out of poverty.

“I have women from Kenya and Ghana and all over Africa who make these baskets and dye the fabrics, and I import them and sell them at shows. The women have to promise to finish high school, and have their daughters do the same,” Ogwel explained.

It’s amazing to see how small, steady stitches can be transformational. From little projects to giant quilts, each piece of art is a collection of tiny efforts over time – dozens of intricate stitches that come together to create something truly beautiful. Woven into each production is the story of someone’s labor, and the fellowship of others who helped to pass along the art.

The 42nd Annual Quilt-a-Fair wrapped up on Saturday. Mills was already looking ahead to future shows. 

“I like the fellowship and the social aspect to what we do. There’s a sense of community when you come to these, and we are always happy to get together,” Mills said.