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Quilters make millions of stitches in hopes of raising thousands of dollars

If pressed, quilt-show chairman Jolene Bennett would estimate that quilts in this year's show use hundreds of yards of fabric. She would put the estimated time spent at "thousands and thousands of hours." And when it comes to stitches — "oh, at least a million or more."

No one's really inclined to count up all the effort that went into making the quilts, however, because the important thing is this: Every fabric chosen, every hour spent, every stitch taken was done with love.

That's what the 2005 Holiday Quilt Show and Auction is all about. Women spend two years making the quilts that are donated to the Deseret Foundation, put on display and then auctioned off to raise money for education and research at LDS Hospital, Alta View Hospital, Cottonwood Hospital and the Orthopedic Specialty Hospital.

Unlike any other quilt show around, Deseret Foundation requires that all the quilting on these quilts be done by hand. Piecing can be done by machine, but all the actual quilting is stitched by hand. It's not that they have anything against machine quilting, which is becoming increasingly popular and can be equally beautiful, says Bennett. It's just that they want to preserve the traditional methods of quilting.

"It's not like our numbers have diminished," says Sandra Okland, a past chairman of the show. "This year we have 74 quilts, and that's about what we've had in the past. We see no reason to change. That's what makes this show unique."

Every year, she says, the show keeps getting better and better. "The quality improves year after year. Every year I wonder how they can get any better, but they do. This year, they are all just fabulous. So many creative, outstanding quilts."

Many of the quilts are made and donated by Utah Quilt Guild chapters and other groups around the state. Others are made by individuals. Quite a number were made at Colonial House, at modern monthly "quilting bees."

"We meet every fourth Tuesday," explains Miriam Zabriskie, "from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Anyone is invited. Usually, we have about 50 women, but they come and go." They piece and quilt and enjoy the camaraderie of other quilters. "It's also a great place to get ideas for your own quilts," says Zabriskie.

This year's crop of quilts features both traditional designs and applique, and both bed-size quilts and wall hangings.

And every one of them has a story.

For example, there's "Baskets and Blooms," a 42-by-50-inch quilt made by the KNOTTS quilt group in honor of their longtime member, Tamara Boren, who lost her struggle with breast cancer earlier this year.

There's "Colonial Ladies," a 70-by-89-inch quilt made by the Monday Quilters of Provo. They found the Colonial Lady blocks in a bag of fabric donated for a humanitarian quilt project. They traded quilt batting for the unfinished blocks, hand-pieced eight more blocks using reproduction '30s fabrics and donated the quilt to this cause.

"Grandmother's Flower Garden," a 79-by-106-inch quilt comprised of tiny, hand-pieced octagons, was eight years in the making. Most of the piecing was done by Eunice Young and Jo VanFleet before they turned it over to the Colonial House for completion.

Another quilt that took years is "Flies in the Patch," a 76-by-100-inch quilt started seven years ago when Rebecca Rudd was organizing a quilt for that year's auction. Quilters in the Weber area donated Nine Patch and Shoe Fly blocks. Unfortunately, Rudd's husband became ill, necessitating a move. The blocks got packed away and were forgotten — only to be discovered in 2003. Rudd again went to the Weber Area-Utah Quilt Guild to have it finished for this year's auction.

You know how socks always seem to get lost in the wash? A number of them turn up on a lighthearted Christmas quilt made by the Girl Gang. If those socks won't hold your list of Christmas goodies, check out the giant sock on the back.

Linda McLean has come to Colonial House not only to quilt but also to be inspired. She designed a quilt pattern from photographs of the Colonial House gardens as viewed through one of the windows. The 41-by-49-inch "Window of Dreams" quilt incorporates 214 unique pieces in the landscape portion.

Those are just a few of the quilts, which feature whimsy, intricate detail, striking color combinations, holiday themes and more.

It's amazing that the women will put this much time and effort into something that they turn around and give away, says Okland. But, she admits, "some of them get so attached, they go to the auction and buy it back." After all, it's all for a good cause.

Since the quilt show and auction were instituted in 1983, the foundation has raised more than $2.1 million. In 1999, they went to an every-other-year format, however, to give themselves more time to make the quilts. Quilts generally sell for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. "You just never know until you get there what the quilts will go for," says Bennett. "There are always some surprises." In the past, top quilts have sold for as much as $25,000.

"It's our way of giving back to the community," Bennett adds. But the quilters get benefits, too. "Quilters are just great people, and this is a great way to be around them. It's a learning experience, too. Most of these quilters are artists in their own right. We all learn a lot of techniques."

They are, every one of them, works of art — and works of love.

If you go

What: 2005 Holiday Quilt Show

When: Saturdaythrough Thursday, 9:30 a.m. -8:30 p.m.

Where: Grand America Hotel, 355 S. Main

Admission: $3 at the door

Also . . .

What: Holiday Dinner and Auction

When: Nov. 18, 6 p.m.

Where: Grand America Hotel

Tickets: $75

Phone: 314-2085