The most visited show each year at the Bowen Center for the Arts in Dawsonville isn’t what you’d expect.
Visitors from all over the southeast will travel to the rock building by the busload to see what the Bowen has in store for the month of October.
The draw? Quilts, and lots of them.
Ginny Greenwood, executive director of the Bowen, said that around 500 people visit the show each year and that many or more are expected this year.
“We get at least 10 to 20 visitors a day, and three big groups have already scheduled visits,” she said.
Members of the Dawsonville Heart in Hand Quilt Guild have been working since last November on new quilts and 75 of the detailed works of art from 27 of the guild’s members are now on display for all to see through Oct. 25.
Jackie Somerville is chair of the quilt show this year, and said work on the show starts six months in advance with publicity and reaching out to various magazines, quilt guilds and the Georgia Quilt Council.
The only criteria for placing a quilt in the show is that the quilts have not been shown at the Bowen before.
Some of the quilts take a year or longer to make, while others come together more quickly.
From deciding on the idea or pattern to sourcing the fabric to cutting, sewing, pressing, quilting and binding, quilting can take a lot of time and money.
“It's quite a hobby, and it's expensive,” Somerville said. “In grandma’s day they used their worn out clothing, grandpa’s pants or something, now we go buy it.”
Looking around at the tags on the quilts, which have photos of the member that made them as well as other information about the quilt, it’s surprising that only two of the quilts are for sale.
“We make them for our families and kids and stuff, there’s not many that make them to sell,” Somerville said.
Guild President Sylvia LaFalce said that
recouping the time and energy put into a quilt makes them hard to sell.
“The issue with selling a quilt is if you really get the value of a quilt considering the work time quilting it...one quilt is $1,200 and that is a valid price for that size a quilt,” LaFalce said. “You have to do it for your enjoyment.”
Visitors to the show will vote for their favorite and the one with the most votes at the end of the show will win the viewer’s choice award.
The guild is also raffling off a quilt that many members were able to work on. Proceeds will be donated to the Bowen.
“We try to pick a quilt that can be broken down into blocks that people can work on, and this quilt did give us that opportunity,” LaFalce said.
The winner will be drawn Dec. 12.
The guild meets at the Bowen the second Tuesday of every month, not necessarily to quilt but to participate in programs and learn from speakers.
The guild also takes part in projects throughout the year, like the mystery quilt project that supplied many of the quilts in the show.
“They get a pattern but they don’t know what they’re making,” Somerville said. “So they start by cutting, they buy their fabric and they cut, and then the next month they get a clue that says ‘sew them together like this’ and they don’t know what they’re doing until it's done.”
Another challenge project was the Americana project, where the quilts had to be less than 40 inches wide.
“We try to get these quilts to fit between these windows for the quilt show so we had to limit the size of that one,” Somerville said.
Each year the guild does a retreat where they, as LaFalce put it, quilt, sleep and eat. The next retreat will be over four days in February at Amicalola Falls.
“Some ladies participate in nothing, but they love to come and they like to learn new things, we learn lots of things from each other especially,” Somerville said.
Somerville joined the guild in 2008, having learned to quilt in 1998 after moving to Cape Cod from Omaha, Neb. when her husband retired from the military.
“I had no job for the first time ever so I went and took at class at a quilting shop,” Somerville said. “My grandmother had tried to teach me when I was a little girl and she taught me to love the quilts, so I learned the modern methods, there are many new tools and gadgets to speed things up, and of course all kinds of amazing sewing machines. I learned and I've enjoyed it and I met so many lovely people.”
LaFalce joined the guild in 2015 and has been quilting for about 30 years.
“I used to sew clothing, including my husband’s suits, so sewing was not the problem but the technique,” she said. “The hardest thing about quilting is the quarter of an inch seam. First of all it's small, but if you don’t sew it accurately, your block won’t fit together.”
Blocks are the larger components that get put together to finish a quilt, which are symbolic of the group effort that it takes to make the quilt show a success.
The guild meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the Bowen.
The Bowen is located at 334 Hwy. 9 North next to Lanier Tech. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free.