NEW ULM - It's not just your grandmother's hobby anymore! Quilting has been exploding as hobby around state and the country, and it has become particularly popular here in New Ulm.
The surge in people picking up quilting is due to expanding demographics that appreciate the art, improved tools that allow people to better express their own styles and even the hobby itself evolving, according to area quilters and quilt store owners. Locally, the trend has surged enough to sustained three dedicated quilting stores in town. The growing number of quilting events being held in town regularly brings in thousands of visitors from around the state each year. The Prairie Piecemaker Quilt Guild, the New Ulm region quilting organization, has grown from 30 members in the 1980s to around 100 members by 2012.
On the topics of the demographics, a big force behind the growing number of people picking up quilting has been people not typically stereotyped as the target market taking up the trade. The most notable gains have been in 20-something young adults and men, according to New Ulm quilting shop owners.
Left: Val Besser, owner of Spinning Spools, shows off a more modern design quilt. The quilt incorporates elements like varying patterns, overlapping designs and use of negative space. This more modern style has become popular has the number of quilters have exploded over the last few years. The growing number of quilt hobbyists is also made up of expanding demographics beyond what is stereotypically assumed about quilters, including 20-something young adults and men.
"[These groups] were always there. They just have a lot more numbers now," said Val Besser, owner of Spinning Spools.
Quilters and store owner also noted that the popularity of the hobby has been boosted by the increasingly sophisticated tools available to construct quilts. Brenda Seidl, owner of The Thimble Box, noted that even the quality of the fabric has dramatic improved. She said the newer tools and fabrics allow quilters to create more complex patterns for their artistic vision.
"Back in the day, they would use seed sacks or left over clothing. Now, we can do much more with the quilts. The fabric is very different," said Seidl.
Area quilters and quilt store owners all noted that the combination of the growing number of quilters and sophisticated tools has resulted in dramatic changes in the quilting art form. Besser noted that the younger groups had moved away from the scrap material and single repeating patterns, which she said was practicality focused, to a more modern design, which incorporates varying pattern styles and even usual elements like buttons. She said she has also noticed the younger crowd utilizing negative space in creating the overall look to the design.
Seidl said the art of quilting has grown into something to other creative art styles, similar to painting on a canvas. She said this has likely contributed to growing the number of people interested in quilting, because they can express their own style while creating something they can use.
She also said this is why New Ulm has been able to sustain three quilting stores. She said modern quilters enjoy touring numerous quilt shops to see the different patterns, styles and materials that each store offers. She said her regular customers frequently follow up a visit to her store with a visit to the other local stores.
Similarly, Besser said the devotion of the quilters and the interests in variety is why the quilting industry has largely been able to avoid significant problems in the recession. She said finding patterns or material for a quilt is similar to a devout fisherman buying a variety of lures, regardless of the economic climate, because they could provide unique options for the hobby.
Next quilting event this month
Local and statewide quilters will get an opportunity to show off the growth in this hobby on Saturday, June 22 during New Ulm's "Quiltistry" event. Area business and organizations from around town will participate in showcasing for activities for the event. The cost is $20 with refreshments included. Tickets are limited and can be purchased at the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce or online.
The Grand Centers for the Arts will host the "Grand Tea and Trunk Show." It will feature professional quilt appraiser Jean Carlton, who will talk about the history of quilting and Minnesota quilts.
A 3D Quilt Workshop on how to fold patterns to produce a 3D look will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 200 North German Street.
Quilters : A Patchwork of Our Lives
NUACT Readers Theatre Class host free play performances on the trials and tribulations of American pioneer women and children and how quilting got them through the harsh times in the Brown County Museum Annex at 11 a.m. and at 12 p.m. Additionally, it will host classes on June 15 from Noon to 4 pm and June 20 from Noon to 1 pm.
Also, the Brown County Historical Society will host an exhibit on quilting and the Wanda Gag House will host a quilting event for children. All three of the New Ulm quilt stores will participate in the event, with The Thimble Box hosting the statewide touring quilt for The Quilt Minnesota Hop Shop and the local "opportunity quilt" for the Prairie Peacemakers at her store.
Finally, the event will repeat the Quilt Walk, which involves the outdoor hanging of quilts along both side of German Street. The display is intended as walking tour of the different quilt styles. Information on the quilts will be available along the path.
The Quiltistry event is sponsored by the New Ulm Retail Specialty Shops, Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau, Prairie Piecemakers Guild and funded by the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council. Further information on the numerous other events that will be held that day and on ticket prices can be seen at www. quiltistrynewulm.eventbrite.com/
The event will be held on Saturday, June 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com)