By Alyssa Dearborn
Every month, the Towpath Quilt Guild meets at the Fayetteville Methodist Church to sew, socialize, and to keep the art of quilting alive in Central New York. Founded in the spring of 1981, the guild has consistently advocated for its mission to “promote awareness and provide educational opportunities in the art of quilting.” But another important aspect of the guild is how passionate its group members are for helping others in the community.
“I think that quilters are very generous people first of all,” said guild President Donita Whelan when asked about the charity quilts created by members. “Even though it is not in our mission statement, it’s always been something important to the members of Towpath to reach out into the community and to help those who can be comforted by a quilt.”
Together, the guild has used their sewing skills to help create quilts, placemats, and even wheelchair bags for a variety of local organizations including Meals on Wheels, McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center, the YMCA, the Syracuse Veterans Hospital, and many more.
“This year, our service project is for ALS.” she continued. “It’s the ALS Challenge and it’s my understanding that they do sell some of the quilts and that money is used for research. Many of the quilts are directly given to people who suffer from this horrible disease.”
When asked about the work that goes into making each of the quilts, Donita emphasized that it is a team effort.
“It’s the energy in the air when you do something like this. It’s incredible. It’s done like an assembly line fashion where someone is cutting the fabric, someone is ironing the fabric, and someone is actually sewing the quilt together,” she said. “But there are several people who choose to work either in small groups at their homes – I have done this several times – or on their own they can create quilts that are for the same cause. It’s very rewarding. Like I said, it’s not part of our mission statement, but it’s extremely rewarding to know that we’re helping somebody with our God given talents.”
Another guild activity that Donita and the rest of the guild looks forward to is the annual quilt show. The annual show displays some of the quilts created by members, but attendees can also enjoy vendors, a boutique, and several raffles.
“Our quilt shows are amazing. I humbly say that,” she said with a laugh. “We have usually somewhere between 150 to 200 quilts to display. There are demonstrations. There’s a boutique. This year, all of our boutique items are handcrafted by members for the public to buy…It’s a very exciting time. We have a quilt that is raffled, so we’ve been selling tickets for that now. So that’s raffled off at the show. We also have a basket raffle, where this year we have 20 baskets lined up for raffling. These baskets are just amazing, all put together by members of the guild.”
The quilt show also celebrates and recognizes the work put into quilt making and also helps the guild network with potential members.
“There’s a public voting where the public can vote on best-in-show. There’s a lot of ribbons that are given out according to categories. It’s just an exciting time, not just for the quilt guild members, but for the public. Of course, a lot of quilters will come, quilters from all over. But people will come with a friend that kind of tagged along and they are just so taken aback. We will often recruit new quilters from this event. We love it when people join the guild having seen our show, and that is a plus. We’re always very welcoming to quilters of any skill level from novice to expert.”
If someone is interested in joining the guild, the best way is to visit the Towpath Quilt Guild website and fill out the application form. If someone does not know if the guild is right for them, Donita says that the guild is always welcoming to visitors.
“They can meet with us.” she explained. “Guests are more than welcome to come. The first time they visit us, it’s free. They don’t have to pay anything. Maybe they’re just a little interested, but they’re not quite sure if it’s for them. So they can come and pay $5 to attend another meeting. And then after that, we encourage them to become a member and the money they have put in is subtracted from the membership fee…I always say that it’s the best $30 that I spend all year.”
The guild is passionate about how it helps bring the art of quilting to the community, but it also wants to ensure that the tradition of quilting has a place in the future. The membership of the guild is aging, so Donita is pinning her hopes on new members to create a stability for the guild in the future.
“Our hopes are that we can continue to grow. As with many of the guilds, COVID set us back a bit. We were not able to meet that year and so we met via Zoom. So between losing some members who didn’t come back and because a lot of our members have been with the guild since it started in 1981 – we have members who are moving into assisted living; a lot of our members have died,” she said. “We would like new blood. We would like to increase our membership. We would like to welcome new quilters and keep this beautiful tradition of quilting – quilting in a group, all that the guild is an example of – we want to keep that going.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Towpath Quilt Guild, visit www.towpathquiltguild.org.