Building bonds with each stitch

Education / Featured Sliders / Home Essentials / Stories / May 14, 2019

Missouri River Quilt Guild members preserve the art, provide ideas and strengthen family bonds

Story by Samantha Pogue • Photos by Sally Ince

The first quilt Beverly Shelton ever made was for her daughter Tanya Harrel. Its intricate design displayed a “a trip around the world,” and Bev gave it to her when she was 14 years old.

“About five years ago, Tanya brought it to me and it was in tatters. She said, ‘Mom, can’t you do something to fix this?’” said Bev, as the two laughed. “I used it a lot. It came with me to my first apartment and I have had it ever since. I just love that my mom made it,” she said. “She has made everything for my girls – quilts, costumes and lots of other things.”

After Tanya’s four girls – Kaitlynn, Lyndsey, Delaney and Desarae – were born, her interest in quilting began to increase, but she felt she didn’t have the time then to delve into the activity. About three years ago, Tanya and Bev attended the annual American Quilter’s Society Spring QuiltWeek in Paducah, Kentucky, which draws more than 40,000 people. The time she was able to spend with her mother surrounded by thousands of quilts, tightened their family bond even closer than it already was.

Tanya then joined the Missouri River Quilt Guild, in which Bev has been actively involved nearly as long as the organization’s inception in 1986. She is not only able to spend more time with her mother, but also enjoys the appreciation felt from a true labor of love like a quilt.

“One of the biggest reasons why I got into quilting is I love seeing people’s reactions when mom would give them a quilt and how special that is. I wanted to be able to do that, make quilts for my girls and make them someday for my grandkids like she has done,” Tanya said. “It is really nice to put thought and time into creating something and giving it to someone else, knowing that they will use it and think of you when they do.”

Like Bev and Tanya, many mothers, daughters and granddaughters have joined the Missouri River Regional Guild to share their passion for quilting and spend quality time together. The knowledge, creativity and friendship they gain is what keeps its about 150 members rooted in this nonprofit organization.

From a bee to a bigger purpose

Like Bev and Tanya, most people are first exposed to quilting from a family member in their home. The beginnings of the Missouri River Quilt Guild mimicked this environment with about a dozen ladies frequently gathering to quilt together at someone’s house.

“It started as a quilting bee and they moved around and it was very traditional,” said Linda Smith, past president, current registered agent and one of the early members of the Missouri River Quilt Guild. “Then in about 1990, they hosted a quilt show at Lincoln University and the Guild was born out of that show, with more people wanting to get involved.”

Bev, a past president and the current community service chair, said Carol Blaney served as moderator and then president for about 10 years, and with growing membership the guild began meeting at a more centralized location.

Now the about 150 members in the Missouri River Quilt Guild meet at 6 p.m. the third Tuesday each month at the Masonic Lodge. And quilting is still at its core. After a half-hour social, show-and-tell and business meeting, members enjoy a program that allows them to learn new skills in quilting, get ideas and bring in and get new parts for a quilt.

Cathedral Windows, a Crazy Quilt Challenge and a quicker cutting method were showcased this spring, with Suzi Parron of Barn Quilt fame presenting at the May meeting. She will also host a workshop where guests will make a 24-inch barn quilt from noon-5 p.m. the same day, May 21, at the Masonic Lodge. Aprons, a trunk show on crazy quilts, a mini-group breakout session among members to showcase current projects, artsy quilts and techniques with a workshop, and Hidden Block quilts fill out the rest of the year’s programming.

“The meetings inspire you every month,” said Guild President Sharon Knorr. “We often invite other people like the Columbia guild to come out and do a trunk show or the guild from (the Lake of the Ozarks area). Also tap into our members. … We always do a picnic in August, a Christmas party in December and Get this Outta My Sight program in January to kick off the year.”

Get This Outta My Sight allows members to bring in scraps, fabrics, half-completed projects, sewing machines – anything they would like to get rid of. Others can purchase it. A Scrap-a-tunity Night serves a similar purpose where all kinds of fabric scraps provide members a plethora of pieces that might help complete their quilt projects, filling a bag for $2-3.

“The money raised from programs like these go toward the Guild,” Knorr said, noting they raised $311 along from this year’s Get This Outta My Sight. “This allows us to give back more to our charity projects.”

Bev said every two years the Guild votes on what community projects they do, usually selecting four or five each time. In October, the Guild chose Hope for Christmas, HALO, DAV, Truman Veterans Hospital in Columbia and Central Missouri Honor Flight. The latter two organizations are projects the Guild has regularly supported each year.

In 2010, a past president who regularly volunteers at the VA Hospital was by staff if the guild could provide quilts for longterm care patients. Thinking 10 quilts would be donated to start, the requested number was 45. The Guild ended up donating 160 quilts to the cause, which lasted about five to six years in supplying unique quilts for those veterans to keep. Now the Guild regularly supplies those quilts, receiving more than 200 quilts for the VA Hospital total. Guild members have donated even more quilts to Central Missouri Honor Flight.

About five years ago, the Guild was asked if they could provide about a yard-square lap quilts veterans could use while traveling by plane to visit the war memorials and historic sites in Washington D.C. With some quilts sporting popular interests like the St. Louis Cardinals, John Deere or golf, many of the quilts, much like those given to patients at the VA Hospital, have a patriotic theme.

Most of the veterans don’t believe the quilts are theirs to keep and are so appreciative in receiving then. The ladies who continually orchestrate these programs are all wives of veterans, seeing the importance of providing such a quality, meaningful keepsake and way to say “thank you” to those who have served our country.

There are many other charitable programs the Guild provides as a group, including regularly donating handmade quilts by members to Habitat for Humanity home recipients. The hundreds of quilts they donate each year to their various service projects either are made by members on their own time or together through special meetings, workshops or events. For example, they held a cut kits session for community service quilts project in February, and members crafted 123 blocks for HALO House quilts during a workday this winter.

Showcasing the art of quilting

Whether it is for community service, education workshops or programs, or to showcase their works, the Guild holds various events for members and the community. In late April, the guild held one of its semiannual retreats, call Bare Bones. Meeting at the Masonic Lodge, quilters are invited to simply come out and spend the day working on their projects.

“We just show up and sew. There are no paid for meals and usually people just bring in food since the lodge has a kitchen. We don’t stay over, but just have fun quilting,” said Susan Wilson, who has been a guild member for 11 years. “Something I appreciate about the Guild is all the members that I know appreciate everybody else’s work whether it is their style or not.”

 At the Guild’s largest community event and fundraiser this summer, more than 300 quilts will showcase the diverse art that is quilting. Linda Smith, co-chair of the 2019 Quilt Show, past Guild president and one of its first members, said outside of the hundreds of finished quilts members will have on display from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 1 and 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. June 2 at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, they will also hang several of the Guild’s Honor Flight, VA Hospital and community service project quilts in the facility’s entryway and staircase.

Included in this show, which takes place every three years, is a vendor area, a consignment shop/guild mercantile area for quilters who want to sell items and a large section of quilting magazines and books for purchase at inexpensive prices, Smith said.

“We’ll also have a featured speaker that will do two trunk shows,” she said. Robyn Gragg will present these trunks shows titled “Divine Introspections and Family Connections” at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1.

Another interesting festivity during the Quilt Show is a vintage bed-turning. Smith said the quilts have previously dated back to the 1800s, but this year will feature beautiful quilts “seen more at your grandmother’s house,” starting in the 1930s and spanning to more recent decades, she added.

Other activities include a My Stash Yardage, raffle gift baskets, a snack and sandwich bar courtesy of the Jefferson City Jay Band and two special “opportunity” quilts that will be raffled. Each of these quilts were crafted from two of the guild’s five subgroups – the applique and design groups.

“The applique group hand-applicated and machine-quilted their beautiful quilt for the show, and the design group is a wonderful art quilt that has a medallion quilt theme with blocks surrounding it,” Bev said.

The applique group uses a certain style of quilting, basically creating blocks by putting fabric on fabric. For example, different fabrics combine to look like leaves on another piece of fabric. Bev said some applique quilters also do machine work, but it is mostly done by hand.

The design group utilizes artistic skills to craft unique looking quilts, and the longarm quilters finish quilts on large machines, focusing more on the detailed quilting design than piecing. The vintage quilt group studies the history of older quilts and the applications used to create them, where one of the newest subgroups, Mostly Modern, creates quilts with a simplistic design.

Even though many of the members joke they don’t have specific titles for their varied styled quilts on display at the show, they will share information about each one.

“The quilts are displayed on large PVC pipe frames and each one will have a card describing who made it, who quilted it and a little story about the piece,” Knorr said. “Some of the stories are wonderful.”

Strengthening families through quilting

Guild member LaVerne Lage will have at least three quilts in the 2019 show, including one using a Lucy Boston paper piece, one with a hexagon shape and another she quilted that features a log cabin.

While each has a unique story, some of LaVerne’s favorite stories come from quilting with her daughter Jane Kempker and her 27-year-old granddaughter Sydney Kempker. LaVerne’s mother, Clara, was and avid quilter, making quilts for each of her 11 children.

“Between my three kids and me, we have at least 25 quilts and we have now passed them down to their kids. She quilted her last quilt at 92,” LaVerne said, sharing she started learning to quilt in grade school. “I have a lot of favorites mom did, including one I have on my bed that has a wedding ring made out of feed sacks.”

Sydney said her interest in quilting started with her great-grandmother and now she loves learning more about sewing and helping her grandmother in the “sewing center” LaVerne has in her home.

“I have a picture of those two sewing together on a quilt for my son, Simon,” said Jane, who first learned to quilt from Clara at age 20. LaVerne added it is filled with a collection of Singer featherweight machines.

“Sydney and I have made those weighted blankets for autistic kids, and she has helped a lot with that,” LaVerne said, noting they donated them through the guild to the Special Learning Center. “That is very rewarding.”

After LaVerne joined the Guild, she encouraged Jane and Sydney to do the same. They enjoy traveling to retreats and shows, like the American Quilters’ Society QuiltWeek in Paducah, and the programs, projects and people through the Guild.

“The friendship and the classes are wonderful. You learn so much and all the members are so artistic and so good at quilting,” Jane said. “I think we love quilting because we get to do it together.”

For 33-year-old Misty Prenger, her love of quilts also started with a close family member, her great-grandmother Betty.

Misty first learned about quilting with Betty as a teenager in high school. Betty lived in her family’s home and they are being a close-knit family. Misty said her great-grandmother always was working, hand-piecing or sewing on a quilt project. Misty liked helping her, often tacking the quilts stretched out in her big quilting frame.

“It is special because of all the love and thoughts you have poured into it. Every time you see it and touch it, you know that and know what it means,” Misty said. “Generations later, you have those quilts.”

After Betty passed away, Misty inherited all of her great-grandmother’s quilting materials. She said her grandmother and mother didn’t really pick up the craft, and they thought she might. It wasn’t until after Misty graduated from college that she entertained the idea of quilting when a good friend of hers got married and was going to have her first baby.

“I had to figure out how to do it again as I hadn’t really ever done it from scratch,” she said. “At that point, I turned to the internet, looking at YouTube, blogs and Instagram, to figured it out. Through my searching, I found the (Missouri River Quilt) guild, and they have helped a lot.”

Misty has now been with the Guild for three years and feels at home with its members.

“It is exactly like being with my great-grandma again. It is a very warm reception and every member of the Guild is always open and welcoming to somebody new,” she said, who finds time to quilt, be a part of the Guild and modern group and raise her 5-year-old son and 1 1/2-year-old daughter while leading an electoral engineering career at Central Electric Cooperative. “As you can imagine, I may have a little different style than some of the other people. They are a bit more traditional and they are always interested in asking about my style and talking to me about it. They just want to see that knowledge and the skills to be passed down.”

Regardless of the pattern, design or style, how quilting brings families and friends together is the most important thing for Tanya.

“It is definitely about bonding,” Tanya said. “Not just for mothers and daughters and granddaughters, but friends, too. It is a deep interest, too, and you can put a lot into it. … With our family, we are just really close. All of my girls are just as close with me as they are with my mom. They grew up with that really tight bond. We are not just passing on the love of quilting and art, but also passing on family bonding.”

Admission for the 2019 Quilt Show is $5. For more information, email

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