Over Labor Day weekend, the historic limestone barn at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was warmed from the inside by flower quilts and dancing boots.
The 14th annual quilt display presented more than 20 flower-inspired quilts, ranging in all sizes and patterns.
“The prairie is filled with wildflowers at different times of the year, and by September, the fall flower season is upon us,” a written release from the preserve said. “Wildflowers such as dotted gayfeather, snow-on-the-Mountain, asters and sunflowers are some of the flowers guests may find in the prairie. Before heading out to see these beautiful flowers in their natural setting, take in the beautiful flower-inspired quilts.”
According to Chief of Interpretation Heather Brown, more than 1,000 visitors witnessed the display, a larger number than is average for the weekend. Out of those, 207 cast a vote for their favorite quilt. With 32 votes, 103-year-old local resident Louise Scott won for her “Flint Hills Wildflowers and Grasses” quilt.
An old-fashioned square dance with live music added to the fun Saturday afternoon.
Dawn Thomas, a Wichita resident who came to visit the preserve with her family, reflected on the pastime of quilting.
“The really cool thing is, patchwork quilting really came from the travels across and having to reuse every scrap of clothing, because they couldn’t get textiles just easily and regularly, so they would use clothes that everybody had outgrown or little scraps of whatever that had become too tattered to wear and made them into these wonderful quilts,” she said. “Now, it’s become more like an artform. Even then, they took so much pride in what they created. It’s just amazing.”
Thomas said it is important to appreciate the time and detail it takes quilters to create their pieces. She pointed out where a machine was used — precise, equal stitching — and where hand-stitching was used — unique stitch pattern and few identical stitching shapes.
“It becomes like a signature, because each person has a different stitch,” she said. “I think sometimes we don’t look closely enough at the work that goes into these things — the time, the effort.”
On top of the time and effort is the expense of the quilt.
“I know that quilts sell for a lot of money, but if you think of the time, the labor and the expense of the material itself, we actually get really good deals on handmade quilts,” Thomas said.
Embracing the practice of using what was available for quilt material, Kathy and Robert King and Sue Smith at Calico Rose Fabric and Quilts of Cottonwood Falls rescued 14 hand-embroidered blocks from a dumpster at an estate sale in Emporia. Soon thereafter, the Kings discovered 19 more blocks, “obviously embroidered by the same unknown artist,” the quilt says on a label made to even the quilt. While on display over the weekend, “Beautiful Flowers” hangs permanently in its home at Calico Rose.
Events like the annual quilt display and visitors who take the time to admire the quilts help keep quilting alive.
“Don’t stop teaching,” Thomas said about quilters. “The traditions are important to pass down to the next generation. It’s not going to be everybody’s skill set, but I think there’s patience and a time-honored tradition that is learned and passed down from generation to generation. I think it’s important for this generation of quilters to find that next generation that’s interested and pass that down, so that the knowledge isn’t lost.”