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Kent Quilters are an integral piece of community fabric

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KENT—This year the Kent Chamber of Commerce is emphasizing CommUNITY, planning events designed to draw people out of their houses and away from their screens to mingle with neighbors. But there is one group that has already been doing that for a decade.

Members of Kent Quilters piece together a signature quilt in 2016. Photo Contributed

Kent Quilters is a convivial group of talented women who use fiber to form friendships. This week, during this weekend’s annual Springfest, they will have a table on the Golden Falcon lot displaying some of the smaller items members have made—throw quilts, potholders, baby quilts, table runners, travel tissue pouches, and the like—and offering them for sale from noon to 6 p.m. It will be the first stage of fundraising for this year’s beneficiary, the Kent Volunteer Fire Department. 

Each year the group chooses one local charity or service group to assist and Springfest is just the first fundraising effort for the year. Saturday, May 11, their busy hands will be at work trying to complete a queen-size red-and-white sampler quilt, intended to be their big money-maker this year. They hope to have it done and on display at the Firemen’s Ball June 8, after which it will be displayed on a large wall at J.P. Gifford’s Market, 12 North Main St.

Award-winning quilter Barbara Marcone displays one of her handsome works. Marcone won best in show at this spring’s Connecticut Piecemaker Guild show. Photo by Kathryn Boughton

Depending on the women’s busy schedules, they may make an appearance again in August with handmade items for sale during Sidewalk Sales, but their big event comes in the fall, from Labor Day weekend through the Saturday before Halloween when they invite residents and visitors alike to take in the Quilt Sale Trail, a scavenger hunt-like progression through the town where quilts are displayed and are for sale at different businesses. Small prizes—quilted keychains, Christmas ornaments and the like—will be given out at Sundog Shoe and Leather for people who see at least 10 quilts.

“This year the recipient will be the Kent Volunteer Fire Department,” said Jane Zatlin, whose own fiber exploration led to the formation of the quilters. A quilt was designated for the KVFD in years past, but the company so valued it they kept it and hung it in their changing room.

“We raise a lot more money from the quilt walk,” said Zatlin, former president of Kent Quilters and co-chair of the sale. “At first the stores were reluctant to do it, but then, after the pandemic, everyone wanted to.” 

Apparently not appreciating her own pun, she said, “There are a lot of pieces to put together. We have to make sure we have enough quilts and then distribute them to the businesses. We’re not trying to overwhelm the stores, but we’re trying to bring people into town.”

Zatlin said the group was born in 2014 when she, a newcomer, became involved with the Kent Memorial Library. Zatlin wanted to do a textile display to raffle off in the winter. “I thought maybe a few people might want to work on something like this and 40 people showed up. We sold $5,000 in tickets that first year. It surprised me because I had worked in theatrical costuming and then fashion and teaching, but I had never made a quilt. Now, I don’t know how many I’ve made.”

Since that first effort, fundraising efforts have significantly benefited local charitable groups. Last year the quilters raised almost $10,000 to start a named scholarship for the Kent Center School Scholarship Fund. And in 2022, it raised about $3,500 for Kent Affordable Housing, which allowed KAH to pay for legal services in getting almost $800,000 in grants, according to co-chair Andrea Schoeny.

A veterans quilt and a signature quilt made for the Kent Historical Society can be seen on permanent display at Town Hall. “We had looked at the examples of signature quilts the Kent Historical Society had, and then got 250 signatures from kids and reached out to members of the community—some more famous or more notorious. We ended up with 600 signatures,” said Zatlin. 

“The most amazing one we made was during Covid,” she continued. “We were going to do one for affordable housing, then the pandemic hit. We put it aside and after couple of months, said, ‘Let’s meet on Zoom.’ Quilting is so much a community event, how could we make a quilt during the lockdown? So, we did a row quilt, with each row made by different people. We would leave rows on each other’s porches and even met outdoors. That quilt was such a testament to people hanging together.”

Now, the group is again meeting on Saturdays in the large meeting room at Town Hall, where members set up sewing machines and ironing boards and get to work. “From a human side, it’s been wonderful for me,” said Zatlin. “At the point it started, I was up here a lot, but I was still a part-timer. It provided a base for lots of friends and lots of laughs.”

There are 15 to 20 active members, some of whom have achieved eminence in the world of quilting. Karen Eckmeier, for instance, is an award-winning quilter and world-renowned quilting teacher. And Barbara Marcone, current co-chair of the group with Schoeny, won two coveted awards this spring at Connecticut Piecemakers show this spring, including Best in Show and a ribbon for Exceptional Work. “I won with my own design,” she said.

Marcone, a member of the Connecticut Piecemakers Guild, said her own entry into quilt making came through an effort she shared with her sisters in creating baby quilts for seven grand-nieces and nephews. “We pass the quilts around, as far away as Oregon, and when they are done, everyone’s hands have touched them,” she said. 

She enjoys the Saturdays when the group convenes in Town Hall. “We bring our sewing machines and sew together,” she said. “Some are ironing the pieces, and we may put a large sheet on the floor to work on assembly. We have one woman, Jeanne Murray, who always remembers where the pieces go.”

This year’s sampler quilt was designed by members Dana Slaughter, Alicia Winter and Lori Schiesel. “Each block will be different,” Marcone reported. “Everyone has made four to five blocks, and it will have a piano-key border. We need everyone to make it happen.”

Fabrics are secured from fabric shops, but Marcone reveals that she scouts thrift shops as well if she needs a specific color. “I have a roomful of fabric,” she said, “but if I need a certain green, I go to the thrift store. 

Pulling out several of the quilted items she has made in different sizes and patterns, she pointed to the one consistent element—they all have a blue bird in their design. Some quilts are appliqued with hand-sewn flowers and other design elements.

“I just like it,” she concluded.

Busy hands make light work. Members of the Kent Quilters work on assembling a quilt at the Kent Town Hill. Photo contributed
Kathryn Boughton
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    Karen Eckmeier

    May 3, 2024 at 9:03 am

    Correction: Although that is a beautiful quilt Barbara Marcone is holding. It is not the quilt that won Best of Show and Exceptional Ribbon at the CT Piecemaker’s Show. The quilt that won was “A Thank You Bouquet.”

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