There's a wave of quiet quilting going on in the Tampa Bay area. People with an eye for design and the patience to create with fabric are gathering once or twice a week to talk about creating quilts of all sizes and designs — as well as bibs for children, pillowcases for soldiers in Afghanistan, fabric postcards to share and auction to raise funds.
They belong to quilting groups with names like the Largo Cracker Quilters, the Suncoast Quilting Circle, the Quilters Workshop, the Hidden Stitches of Florida, the Quilters Crossing of Tampa Bay, the West Pasco Quilters Guild and the Feather Princesses of Tampa.
A lot of the groups have 100 members of more, and Michelle Facsina, co-owner of Rainbow's End Quilt Shoppe in Dunedin, estimates there are 20,000 to 30,000 quilters in the bay area.
"Lots of people are half-year residents," Facsina said. Her shop draws quilters from Europe, Britain and Central and South America.
Mostly, they come to Rainbow's End for fabrics. Facsina says she has at least 30,000 bolts of the stuff as well as books, quilting tools and classes.
"Our business is not just quilters," she said. "We have a lot of younger people who are sewing — clothing, children's items, bags."
Machine-quilting has made the craft more appealing, Facsina said. A machine can do in a day what it would take a month to do by hand.
These are not your grandmother's quilts. Well, actually, sometimes they are. There are still people who create the basic 5- by 5-foot quilt for a bed.
A quilt, technically, is a front and back stitched together with some type of batting in between. But today's trends allow quilters to mix and match styles, colors and techniques. Some quilting groups specialize in applique — sewing on fabric or other items to the quilt.
"Not all quilts are made to go on a bed," says Pauline Salzman, a member of the Suncoast Quilting Guild of Largo, who has been quilting since 1993. Her quilts have become increasing popular and elaborate. One, featuring the image of a doctor at All Children's Hospital surrounded by dogs and lines of poetry, to give his young patients something to look at while they wait, hangs in the surgical ward outside his office.
Giving away their work is a big pattern for quilters. The Suncoast Quilting Circle, for example, last year made an estimated 150 bibs for special-needs children, nearly 500 colorful pillowcases for troops overseas and bed quilts for residents of Resurrection House in St. Petersburg.
"For children, we can pattern the quilts to their personalities," explains Alberta Dalke, vice president of the group. "We do lap quilts for patients in nursing homes and the VA."
Dalke, who says she has been quilting since the 1980s, is currently working on a quilt to celebrate the hexagonal blocks of St. Petersburg's traditional sidewalks. It's part of an ongoing competition within her group: quilting to a theme. "February is superstition month, so I am doing one on 'Step on a crack, break your mother's back,' " she says. So all her hexagonal blocks have cracks.
Fred Wright Jr. is a freelance writer living in Seminole. He can be reached at email@example.com.