This time Woodstock is about quilts

They converge on the village of Woodstock, NY from Canada, San Francisco, Chicago and across the Northeast. This time, though, it’s not Jimi Hendrix or Jefferson Airplane drawing them in, but rather a peculiar obsession shared by the QuiltGuys:  an all male quilting bee.

Known as the QuiltGuy Retreat, the twice yearly gatherings are the result of a ten year-old Yahoo quilting group. The weekend event is the brainchild of Bob Silverman and Jim Helms, owners of the Woodstock Quilt Supply (recently merged with The Joyful Quilter in Glenville, NY). Says Silverman, “There was a conversation thread which basically pointed out that most of the guys had never met and wouldn’t it be great if we could actually meet.” In 2007, Silverman volunteered to hold the quilt camps in his store – and a new tradition was born.

The stories of how the men became enamored with quilts and the art of creating them are as varied as the materials and patterns they use.  For Silverman and Helms, it started when they moved to Woodstock.  After having decorated the walls of their new home with quilts from Helm’s family, the pair set out to make one for a wall in a large room. “How hard could it be?” they wondered. From that moment on they were consumed by quilting, which led the two men to join the local quilt guild, subscribe to every known quilting magazine and as Silverman notes “became obsessed as only quilters can be.”

Across the country, San Francisco quilter and frequent flier Jim Hahn started his passion with needlework at the age of eight. It wasn’t until 1997 that he tried his hand at quilting. It all started with a simple request from a friend who asked him if could repair her quilt since he was so nimble with needle and thread. According to Hahn, the quilt “was toast” but his interest was piqued, which led him to a local quilting shop where he took a beginners class.  Like Silverman and Helms, he was hooked on quilting right away.

Public relations guru Jeff Rutherford became intrigued with quilting during a visit to the Bronx’s Wave Hill Park art gallery where quilts created by a group of New York City quilters were on view.  Says Rutherford, “On display were ‘art’ quilts and I was blown away. One woman had done photo transfers into fabric of photographs taken of her relatives on Ellis Island. Fascinated with the work, Rutherford thought “I can do this” and started with magazine subscriptions, books on quilting, and finally a beginner’s class.

Classes are not for everyone. Rich Caro had created different types of art ranging from collages to assemblage to found-object sculpture. He already had incorporated fabric into his artwork and done some hand sewing, but knew very little about quilting or sewing machines. In the summer of 1999, he needed a Chupah for his wedding. He says, “necessity as the mother of invention…my first quilt was created.” He borrowed a ‘utility’ sewing machine and began to experiment with stitches and appliqués. Mixing machine with hand sewing, he realized he could create visual depth and even large-scale objects. To learn more about quilting, Caro visited a few quilt shops asked questions and picked up enough information without ever entering a classroom setting.

Each QuiltGuy has his own vision for designing quilts. Some remain faithful to traditional patterns and materials, while others prefer to experiment with non-conventional fabrics and sketch their own designs.

Jeff Rutherford is still mesmerized by free-form “art” quilts that eschew formal pattern, though for now he is sticking to traditional patterns and traditional all-cotton fabrics.  His first project was a log-cabin quilt with blue and green borders around blocks of floral patterned fabric in yellow, purple, and orange. He has five quilts under his belt.

With an art background, it’s no surprise that Rich Caro starts off with preliminary sketches, image research and primary observation. He never works from templates when he creates a pictorial quilt and his fabric selections are not predetermined. He calls this “freehand, improvisational piecing.”  An example of this is “Antilinear,” a dramatic black quilt with a collage of circular pieces in red, gray, black, white and brown.

San Francisco-based Jim Hahn’s predilection is to alter patterns he sees in books or magazines to suit his own tastes. “This can be resizing the pattern to make it fit a particular size or changing parts of it to emphasize different design elements.” Like Rutherford, Hahn uses 100 percent cotton fabric. An aficionado of complex geometric designs, Hahn’s trademark is his color palette, which mostly consists of varying tones of browns, creams, golds, reds and greens. An example of his fondness for these colors can be seen in his quilt “Doubled Feathered Star.”

The retreat is now approaching its third year in existence, and the QuiltGuys like the combination of sewing and face-time. According to Caro, both the online group and the retreat make it a “best of both worlds” situation where “one compliments the other—much as meet-ups have become ubiquitous to Facebook and Twitter for the same reason.”

The men have the opportunity to socialize, but also to learn new techniques in an informal setting.  As Hahn puts it, “I think it has a lot to do with finding other men who speak your same language. It’s really a female-dominated hobby, and so we men are far and few between. There is lots of camaraderie and support, which we sometimes don’t get from our partners and spouses. We don’t think much of going fabric shopping and dropping $300 or $400 on fabric, but the other half sometimes thinks we’ve lost our minds.”

To learn more about The QuiltGuy retreats and quilting, gentlemen can join via the Yahoo Groups http://groups.yahoo.com/group/QuiltGuy/ or contact Bob Silverman at www.joyfulquilter.com.