The next time you’re in Maryland — hopefully enjoying a blue crab feast with friends — here’s a conversation starter: To which region of the country does Maryland belong? During the Civil War, Maryland, a slave-holding state, lay below the Mason-Dixon Line but chose to remain with the Union. So is it Southern or Northern? Then, consider that Washington, D.C., a wholly distinct commonwealth tucked within Maryland’s borders, is considered Mid-Atlantic, shouldn’t Maryland be Mid-Atlantic too?
Consensus or no, you and your friends should all agree that Maryland’s remarkable geography is more than just lines on a map. From its swamps on the Chesapeake Bay to the beaches at the Atlantic Coast; from its vast tracts of farmland to its Appalachian Mountain peaks; from serene riverbanks to the city sidewalks of Baltimore (population: 6 million), Maryland has been called “America in Miniature” for all the variation within the US’s seventh-smallest state.
There is nothing small about the hearts of the Maryland quilt folks we met, however. We visited the historic Dentzel Carousel in Glen Echo Park with Nisha Bouri and Kim Martucci, the owners of Brimfield Awakening, a quilting store built on their friendship. We spent time on the Eastern shore with Victoria McConnell, president of the Fiber Arts Center of the Eastern Shore, and popped into a UFO meeting with its members. And most readers will be familiar with Baltimore Album quilts, whose out-sized legacy is stewarded by the Baltimore Appliqué Society. (Quilty tip: Make sure to get a look at Maryland’s state flag, which we think looks a lot like patchwork.)
Once you take a trip with us through beautiful Maryland, we think you’ll understand why three different regions of America want to call it their own.
African American Quilters of Baltimore
Members of the African American Quilters of Baltimore take their motto of “Each One, Teach One” seriously. This sisterhood of about 85 passionate quilters welcomes a wide range of ages and quilting styles into its membership. About half a dozen veteran, gifted members gathered at a local, historically Black college, the site of their regular quilt shows, to share some of their favorite quilts.
Bellwether Dry Goods
Georgina Fries opened Bellwether Dry Goods one year after the family’s eldest left for college. With four kids still at home, the Fries family successfully launched a hand-quilting service that has lasted 40 years and is still going strong. They employ mostly Amish and Mennonite hand quilters through mail services, and some of their quilters have completed more than 100 quilts with Bellwether.
Nisha Bouri and Kim Martucci are two friends who combined their passion for English paper piecing and a vintage quilt block found in a trash bag at an antique sale to form Brimfield Awakening, an online store full of patterns and notions. Their business began because of a serendipitous find, and they’ve continued to grow and thrive.
Dr. Joan Gaither
Dr. Joan M.E. Gaither lives by several adages she’s learned from teachers and her grandmother: “Those who can, must” and “Anticipate doing more.” She has spent her career teaching and creating quilts to document both her own life and the personal narratives of others through both current and historical lens. Joan is passionate about fighting racial hatred and injustice in our country, one quilt at a time.
The Fibers Arts Center of the Eastern Shore, or FACES as it’s known locally, exhibits the work of local artists, provides instruction through a variety of class offerings, and brings people together in old-fashioned, quilting-bee settings where the groups laugh, hug, listen, and support one another, eat chocolate, and, occasionally, even complete a few stitches.
Sisters Sandy and Alice Engle enfuse their quilting with an empathetic tenderness, creating memory quilts for members of their community and lap quilts for cancer patients. Their storied lives together inform the compassion they bring to every project, creating something unique and comforting for each client.
In the early 1990s, Gyleen Fitzgerald found her way to quilting, and she’s never looked back. After a first career in engineering, Gyleen has made a second career as a prolific quilt teacher. Her passion is helping her students find joy, not perfection. She approaches her instruction time as a time to cheer on her students, and many of the thousands of students she has reached leave her class inspired to create joyful, colorful quilts.
When Kay Butler’s former eight-grade math students see her on the street, they always ask “Mrs. Butler, are you still quilting?” They may not remember the algebra she taught them, but they do remember her quilts as teaching aids for the geometric language of algebra. Kay is retired from public school but still avidly teaches hand-quilting techniques to eager beginning quilters.
Throughout her career, Lesley Riley has told stories through her unique gift of assembling fabric, photos, and words. Now, she expands the boundaries of her art with natural elements, digital and sun printing, and a historical series on the Civil War.
Linda Colsh explores humanist themes, primarily within her three areas of interest: people growing old, the environment, and the movement of people between cultures. Returning to Maryland after 26 years in Europe and Asia, she considers both natural spaces and urban places in her art. She builds layered and stitched artworks from her photographs, drawings, writings, and memories.
Lucinda Marshall is a mixed media artist, working most recently in improv quilting. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and has won several awards. In this issue of Quiltfolk, Lucinda shared with us a couple of her poems inspired by quilting.
Mimi Dietrich has been in the quilting industry for more than 40 years. During that time, she’s done it all from writing books, to teaching and traveling, to having her own museum exhibition. One thread has woven it all together — people. Mimi loves to meet new people, catch up with longtime friends, and delights in sharing in collaborative projects as well as her knowledge.
For most people, the prospect of organizing and cataloging a closet full of old family pictures and stacks of quilts is a daunting prospect, but Patty Zimmerman is up to the job. A sixth-generation Western Marylander, Patty is spending her first year of retirement working through her family’s archive, making sure both the paper and the fabric elements are around for the next generation.
Nancy Kerns and Baltimore Album Quilts
The original Baltimore Album craze only lasted about 20 years in the mid-19th century when Maryland women with serious needle skills competed to make the most lavish appliqué album quilts imaginable. The BAQ revival that started in the early ’80s has already outlasted the original fad thanks to quilters like Nancy Kerns who loves to copy these complex beauties. Many aficionados are content to copy individual blocks, but Nancy is one of the hardcore fans who copies entire quilts, winning major prizes for her efforts. She took Quiltfolk into her sewing room and let us watch her quilt a BAQ.
Stella Rubin is a successful and highly respected dealer of antique quilts. Even Martha Stewart is a fan. Her personal collection of old quilts includes lavishly appliquéd and quilted pieces from the mid-19th century made within 10 miles of her home. Quilts weren’t even on her radar growing up in Manhattan, but a horse led her to Maryland where she still loves hunting for quilted treasure.
When Victoria McConnell and her husband decided to retire from commercial farming, Victoria couldn’t have been happier. That change, along with her retirement from teaching and becoming an empty nester, finally brought her back to one of her loves: quilting. Now, she joyfully drives down the dusty, dirt roads to Denton where she is the president, and one of the lifesavers, of the Fiber Arts Center of the Eastern Shore.
Vera Hall, a retired educator and Baltimore councilwoman, blends her heritage and love of storytelling into quilts that are as beautiful as they are enlightening. While quilting was an inheritance from her North Carolina family, a later journey into appliqué would change Vera’s practice for decades to come. Her quilts are living proof that history can be preserved in vibrant and imaginative ways.
Suzanne Coley spends her days capturing memories through expertly crafted couture textile books. From Shakespeare’s sonnets to wedding dresses from local thrift shops, Coley finds inspiration in all facets of life and the world around her. Her manipulation of quilts into book form captures the human experience in ways that can’t be done through words alone.