The days of calmly sitting by the fire stitching a quilt are long gone. With the abundance of stores that sell quilts and the expense of materials, many people have opted to buy rather than make quilts.

However, for Jeanette White, co-owner of Piper's Quilts & Comforts in Sugar House, the art of quiltmaking is very much alive. White has a passion for it and is seeking to bring back what is fast becoming a lost art.

White specializes in a quilting technique called applique or applied fabric design, which can be done by hand or machine. She says many quilting stores are terrified of it, because they don't have anyone who specializes in it.

One of the more common quilting trends today is piecing, or making geometric fabric designs with pieces of material. However, White still prefers applique.

"Applique is the love of my heart. I've been doing it for a long time," she said. "Teaching applique is what really sets us apart and makes us different from other quilting stores in the valley."

Since White loves this dwindling part of quiltmaking, she is seeking to instill it in others, as well. White and Erin Hamilton, her daughter-in-law and co-owner, have designed kits of the different quilt patterns displayed in their store and offer classes to go along with the kits, so customers wanting to make those particular quilts have the necessary materials and instruction. Classes are taught in the afternoons and evenings. Helping others learn quilting techniques is one of the store's goals.

"We're much more interested in teaching people how to make quilts than to sell them. We do sell them, but that's not our primary goal," Hamilton said.

For example, one of the quilts displayed in the store, located at 1944 S. 1100 East, is called Botanica. It is made up of 12 blocks. Each 24-inch-square block has a different floral design, made with fine-hand applique. Each month Piper's features a block of the month and provides a kit with all the necessary materials to complete it and a class to work on it.

By the end of the year, those taking the class will have made an heirloom-quality quilt without a lot of headache or expense. Kits can be purchased separately for $20 each or all at once for $192.

White refuses to tell her customers or class members that something is beyond their skill level.

"I don't like to tell people that quiltmaking is hard, because it's not or that something is too difficult for them," she said.

White and Hamilton offer ways for those interested in quilting to do so without great expense. For example, one of the classes is called Budget Block, and it costs only $12 for the year, or $1 a month. Class members make one block pattern each month, and by the end of the year have not only perfected a technique but have made an affordable quilt.

Another option is to join Piper's Power Pack Club. Customers pay $60 a year for their membership and in turn receive 20 6-inch blocks of Piper's newest materials the first week of every month, with the option to order additional yards of any of the fabrics with free shipping. Piper's also offers Fat Quarter Bundles, which include cut-up portions of a schematic of the newest fabrics. They range from $30 to $75 each.

Hamilton says the store is trying to perpetuate what they consider an American art.

"I think quilting is one of the only American arts. I think it's really important to keep those things alive, and that's what we're trying to do here," she said.

Piper's is very responsive to customer requests and is constantly on the lookout for additional techniques. One that the store has added in the past few years is machine applique. Traditionally, applique has only been done by hand, but to keep up with current trends, White locked herself in her studio for three and a half weeks to come up with two methods of invisible machine applique, which they now teach customers.

The store also offers a class on a new technique called Russian needle punch, used to make quilts more 3-D. In addition, they offer a number of classes on knitting, which came partially as a result of numerous customer requests and because interest in it is growing.

In one of the classes, knitters make baby beanies. White says they can't keep the beanie yarn in stock, because it's so popular. Adding wool to quilts is another growing trend. The store has a kit for a wool quilt called Wool Stars that costs $200.

One of the store's highest honors to date is being named as one of the top 10 quilting stores in North America by Better Homes and Gardens last spring. The magazine did a six-page article on the store, and Hamilton and White designed a quilt pattern called Mary Ellen's Gift to go with the article.

Hamilton says they hope to eventually be able to design their own fabric patterns. They co-authored a book about beginning applique quilts that will be out for publication in the next three months. They have already designed several quilting patterns of their own and hope to do more.


E-mail: twalquist@desnews.com