The Early Years...
After the first quilt show held at the YWCA in Plainfield in April of 1983, the YWCA Quilt group, which later became the Harvest Quilters, met for the first time. That first show featured 35 quilts and there was no admission charge. The name, "Sharing the Quilts," was coined that day when a woman who worked at the Y got her first taste of quilting around a frame with others and remarked that she felt a warm sense of community and sharing as she learned how to put in her running stitches to enhance the pieced pattern. The group began meeting monthly.
From the outset, members decided not to have officers, structure, committees or a lot of administrative stuff to interfere with the concentration on quilting. These women had busy lives filled with commitments like jobs and families and wanted only to gather for the sake of the quilting in an informal way. That format has never changed and group consensus has always been used to make decisions.
In those early years, we used quilt shows to share quilts and raise money for women's programming at the YWCA. A portion of the profit went to the group to meet expenses, help fund charitable projects and relieve members from paying dues. We felt the group would then be available to everyone without economic considerations. We have never charged dues in all the years since.
Different themes were used in shows each year and there was always a Viewer's Choice ballot. Shows became more sophisticated as we went along. Some years the show ran for two days and we slept on couches in the living room area to provide overnight security. Later it was decided that one day was enough if we just started really early. We would go to the Y at 3:30 a.m. for set up and ask the Plainfield PD to meet us at the door. They stayed until we had unloaded the quilts from our cars and locked ourselves into the building.
In 1989, the group, which had changed its name to the Stitch 'n Show QG decided they wanted to find another facility in which to hold quilt shows. While the Y was a wonderful display area, the parking was terrible. The group did hold two more shows at the Y and the last one there commemorated the WWII era with quilts, memorabilia, music and even uniforms and wedding gowns of that time.
We then became the Harvest Quilters and continued to meet and hold shows every year. We moved the annual show to the West End School in North Plainfield in 1992 where we raised money to help fund a new playground. During the two years at the school, we had wonderful quilts displayed and those who were there will remember the Christopher Columbus quilts made from children's drawings, one of which hung for years in the entry way of that school. Unfortunately, these shows were poorly attended and it was necessary to move on.
Laura Evans suggested the United Presbyterian Church on Front Street in Plainfield, which had a great parking lot and was reminiscent of the Y with its wonderful dark woodwork against which the quilts showed up so well. We had four successful shows there until we were unexpectedly priced out. In a hurry, we wound up at the Stirling Presbyterian Church. The shows at both Presbyterian churches were well attended with the final two in Stirling being quite "over the top" raising enough money to do some special things like having a "Quilt Day" and donate to their Memorial Garden. We moved on to the United Methodist Church in New Providence for 2 years and then to Wilson Memorial Church in Watchung for 5 years. In 2008 HQ we held our show at Terrill Road Bible Chapel and it was there that Pastor Cynthia Cochrane-Kearney found us and invited us to her church for our spring show. In 2014 we celebrated our 6th year there in Scotch Plains.
Hundreds of special things at our shows would take pages and pages to tell, but a few would be Karen Hochman's display of vintage wedding gowns and quilts, a husband standing enthralled by Jenny Cline's flute playing while his wife gazed awestruck at our quilts, the "hands on" efforts of group members making quilts from scratch at every show for decades, and the thrilled face of Brandon, son of group quilter, Karen Gloeggler, receiving a winning ribbon for the quilt he made with his mom who later wrote a book about Jane Austen quilts that was featured with Jane Austen quilts at our most recent show.
The group held monthly meetings for many years in homes on a rotating basis from member to member until it grew too large and a handicapped consideration made us think about meeting in a quilt shop or public facility. For sometime we met at Prints Charming in Middlesex, then at Cozy Corner Creations in Scotch Plains, at Fabricland in North Plainfield, and finally now at the Chelsea in Fanwood.
Over the years, this group, though small in number by comparison to others, has done many educational, service and charitable projects. One of the first was the making of tiny quilts for babies born with AIDS. All of them had a heart in them and were displayed as a group at our show before being sent off. We made two Peace Quilts which were taken and presented to women and children in Russia by a group of 22 during a trip sponsored by the YWCA and videotaped by an independent film crew. A grant was secured one year from the Union County Art Council in which a quilt show, the play "Quilters,” and a Heritage Quilt Project Discovery Day were all held together in April of 1989. A dozen quilts were made and sent to children in the flood devastated Midwest in 1992. Another dozen children's quilts were sent to Japan to children who lost everything in an earthquake in 1996. Quilts were sent to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and to several cities where tornadoes devastated homes. Sixteen two-by-two foot wall hangings were made for use in the play, "Quilters." Each of those blocks had to be made twice, once to be displayed by itself as part of the play, and once to be part of the huge quilt dropped down at the end of the play. The large quilt was raffled off and individual blocks were presented as gifts. The Schoolhouse Block hangs in the library in North Plainfield High School. Secret Drawer was presented to the Kenyan YWCA in Africa by a group of YWCA travelers. One hangs in a nursing home in Ohio and our Tree of Life block is still on the wall in the Plainfield YWCA. Other blocks were given to YW's in Arizona, Canada and New Zealand. So the sun can hardly set on the work of this group around the world. After each quilt show, some of the money raised goes to a worthy cause which has included food banks, Newark Museum, cancer foundations, wounded veterans organizations, church projects, hospice groups, and the victims of many natural disasters.
Many group block exchanges and fabric challenges took place over the years, and twice we did Friendship Quilts, once with 18 participants and another with over 20 -- and what displays they were! And who could forget the Round Robin quilts that were so beautiful and creative. Members have introduced us to computer quilting and Internet quilt exchanges. Someone always seems to be coming up with new ideas of how to quilt and what to quilt, and if you miss a meeting, you miss a lot.
This group has also always been socially aware. Whenever called upon to share quilts, members have stepped forward and taken the time to be part of historic displays and events.
Then there is the Japanese connection! Karen Hochman began a letter writing exchange with a Japanese quilter and this connection led to Japanese quilts being displayed at our shows as well as for our group and our quilts to be featured in a news segment on Japanese TV. And what a lovely evening it was when we all got to finally meet Hiroe and her son. In December of 2000 a 5 day quilt show was mounted in Takamatsu City in Japan which featured Japanese quilts and American quilts made by Harvest Quilter members.
The group started with 7 members and has grown to over 50 now. We have a proud and active history that could easily rival any larger group. We have been socially aware of current events and women's needs. We have given time, effort and money to programs for women, children and families in our towns and in the world. We have presented programs for the Girl Scouts and after school programs, always reaching out whenever possible to help youngsters learn about quilting. And it was a delight when we watched a member’s 8 year old son, Aaron, as he guided some other youngsters through our quilt show and knowledgably told them about our quilts. By breaking some of the traditional quilt group rules and removing the time consuming politics and administrative details, we have been able to use all of our energy for the quilting.
We have always felt that for us, the quilting reaches beyond the expertise of stitches and pattern and color into the heart of the community of women and families in a sharing that goes beyond age and economic background. These are among the things that make our group very special, and somewhat of a maverick as traditional quilt groups go - but that is why we are happy to be part of it.