Recently Virden quilters, and visiting quilters, were treated to two days with designer Karen Bialik of Lethbridge, Alta.
Bialik sold her quilting store to become a designer for Northcott Fabrics, a Canadian fabric manufacturer.
“I design patterns using their fabric,” Bialik explains.
A true artist, she has loved colour and fabric since she was a little tot.
“Actually, my dad had me oil painting when I was about three. And I always had to mix my colours,” she chuckles recalling his insistence that she use primary colours to create the nuance of colour she wanted.
Bialik’s fascination with fabric began as a pre-schooler as well. Her mother didn’t quilt, but gave her daughter fabric because it kept her entertained.
“I’ve been quilting since I was about four years old. I can remember sitting at the kitchen table waiting for my brothers to finish the cereal before they went to school so I could use the cereal box to cut out my shapes.”
In contrast with the days of patchwork quilts she explains, “You used to cut out templates from cardboard. You would use scissors; we didn’t have cutters. We can make quilts so much faster and more accurately now. And nicer fabric.”
In their home built recently to accommodate the trade, the Bialiks, a husband and wife team produce many new quilt designs.
“My husband helps me with this. He does all my designs on AutoCAD, my diagrams.”
He was a medical researcher. “He tests my patterns. He does it like it’s medical research. So he’s really good at finding any mistakes ...” she pauses to study the new diamond design the quilters are working on this day in Virden.
Disturbed, she says that a quilter just found the mistake. In the sewing craft, patience is required as mistakes do arise.
“This is our first time laying it out.” The design originally had hearts in the middle. Virden quilters wanted triangles.
“One of these little triangles was wrong. The wrong colour was in the wrong place. You think it’s not important until you put the quilt together.”
“These ladies are amazing quilters,” she stated. “When I asked the size of Virden and they said 3,500… I can’t believe how many good quilters there are.”
Crazy quilting, popular in Victorian times when satins and velvets were incorporated in quilts, has been updated with new machine technology she says.
“You do any old pattern, any which way, and you do hand embroidery on the seams.”
Batiks, hand died cotton from Indonesia, are kind of new.
“They have been around forever, but they haven’t been used in quilting until lately. They have a little different ‘hand’ to them; the colours are saturated – right through the fabric.”
Using blue jean fabric is kind of a recent thing and scrap quilts are still really big she says.
Bialik brought just a few quilting products with her, but commented, “I don’t like to compete with the local stores. You’re lucky to have such a nice store here in Virden. A lot of mid-sized cities are losing their fabric stores because of online shopping.”
Virden’s Crazy Stitchers are keeners. They quilt together every week, and take yearly expeditions.
Cindy Forster heads up the group. Georgie Henuset, the secretary, says, “You’re never working alone here.” The quilters help each other. Sharing information is part of the club’s culture.
“We meet [yearly] and decide what we’re going to do, month to month. And you can participate, or not. You can sew on your own quilt. It’s fun because there’s so much experience in this room,” says Henuset
Lorrie Flannery, who now plans their trips, was a newbie seven years ago, and was mentored by the group.
Prizes and games, lunch stops, it’s all planned on the three or four-day bus trip they take. Lethbridge, High River, and Okotokes Alta. were tour stops the first year.
Another year the group travelled in Saskatchewan, “through Saskatoon, up to Duck Lake, Foam Lake.
We just do quilt shops, a four-day shopping spree!” says Flannery. This year, Crazy Quilters are heading east into Ontario.
They open the registration to others to join the tour. “We’ve had ladies come from Neepawa, Goodlands, Pierson.”
Anyone can join the weekly quilting group the Crazy Stitchers for a $50 yearly fee.