Twenty-odd years ago, Cindy McEntee found herself with a sewing machine she had no interest in, but that a well-meaning aunt thought she should have. There it sat in its cabinet, unwanted and taking up space in McEntee’s living room.
One gray Sunday, McEntee fell asleep in that room and awoke just as OPB’s Sewing With Nancy was going off the air. Not long after, McEntee found herself in the local craft store looking for something that might occupy her hands. She left with two quilt projects.
“I ripped them right out,” McEntee recalled. “I made two large quilts in like two weeks. I thought, this is really fun. I took them to Craft Warehouse and I said, ‘Did I do this right?’ She said, ‘You finished them already?’
“That’s how it started. It was just a fluke. Nancy was talking to me in my sleep. I was just glad I wasn’t sleeping to This Old House; I’d have a pickup truck with a bunch of tools.”
These days, McEntee is one of two certified professional Quiltworx instructors in Oregon, past president of the Oregon Coastal Quilters Guild and winner of 18 ribbons – including two best of show – at the annual Quilts by the Sea. McEntee, along with most every other serious quilter in Lincoln County and beyond, is gearing up for the 2019 festival, Aug. 2 and 3.
The 29th annual quilt show will feature close to 300 quilts and draw roughly 1,300 visitors to the Newport Recreation Center over two days. Admission is $6. The show is described by many associated with it (no doubt a wee bit biased) as offering a look at the work of some of the finest quilters in Oregon.
“Some of the quilts, when you stand back and look, you just say, wow,” said Jean Amundson, co-chairwoman of this year’s show. “The year before last, there was one made by a member who took a photo of Arches National Park in Utah and she reproduced that as a quilt. It was appliqued and took thousands of pieces to reproduce that photo. We have some of those every year. It’s just amazing.”
Quilting is not merely the craft it used it to be, but an art form in itself. Amundson attributes that in part to the wide array of cotton fabrics available, the advent of the long-arm quilting machine, sophisticated sewing machines, and the availability of workshops led by skilled quilters such as McEntee. (To earn her certification, which McEntee compares to being akin to a professor, she had first to complete multiple workshops, earning an invitation to attempt certification, and then complete two additional phases, one in which she was required to make eight quilts in four days.)
McEntee sees the sophistication of quilting as a natural progression. Quilting, like most crafts, evolved through innovation, she said. “You can start out with little squares and after a while it gets a little boring. A person who makes these complex quilts has to have a little – not just artistic ability – but you have to know some math.”
A lot goes into the abstract quilts she makes, for instance. “It takes a lot of patience and a good seam ripper.”
Quilts entered in the Art Quilt category at the Newport show must be an original design (no patterns) and made solely by the member. Other categories include quilts themed for children, quilts for beds, quilts for walls, wearables, home accessories, and modern quilts.
What constitutes a modern quilt?
Depends on whom you ask, Amundsen said. “They kind of say, ‘Oh. I recognize it when I see it.’”
The show also includes this year’s Threads of Life quilt, made from squares designed by people whose lives have been touched by organ, eye, and tissue donations. A silent auction of small quilts will benefit Food Share of Lincoln County, and quilts will be presented to local veterans. The guild gives quilts to veterans year round and handed out more than 50 last year, McEntee said.
The guild decided this year to make patriotic center patches for those quilts. Forty-seven people have turned in centers that will be displayed at the show, McEntee said. Guild members then pick up fabric and patterns and make blocks to surround the center patches. “A beautiful display is in store for those coming to the show,” she said, “where we have invited Lincoln County Veterans to receive their quilts.”
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.