It's the sum of its parts. And each part has a role to play in how we define love, patience, perseverance, contemplation, compassion and joy. A quilt is the coming together of many things. In fact, the more you bring to it, the more beautiful and precious it becomes. Vijaya Sukumar meets members of the Dubai Quilters Guild

Saudi national Amal Al Shamil can still remember the absolutely lovely colourful quilt she received from her DQG friends when she was in hospital.

The pain, the discomfort, the suffering she was undergoing during the treatment for her lung cancer, the chemotherapy sessions ... all of it seemed to evaporate the moment she received "the quilt that the Dubai Quilters Guild members made especially for me'', she recalls.

"During my illness, (the DQG) were so good to me. They sent me flowers while I was in King Faisal Hospital in Jeddah. They made the quilt for me. They called me regularly. Their friendship really helped me a lot (while I was undergoing) chemotherapy," recalls Amal.

But then that is what quilts, quilting and quilting guilds are all about - striving to make a positive change in the lives of people.

The little patches of colour and design, lovingly and joyfully sewn together to make a warm, comforting spread, can truly bring happiness to the recipients' life.

But the joy isn't confined to the recipient. It touches even those who make it - by a process which, while being painstaking, is also immensely fulfilling. It is no wonder that quilting guilds have mushroomed almost all over the world.

Dubai, too, has its own guild - the Dubai Quilters Guild (DQG). Formed in 1999, it brings together close to 70 members from over 20 countries who share a common passion for the craft.

Canadian Marcia Irving, a member of DQG, had formed a quilt group of around nine women in Canada called 'In Stitches'.

"Since its inception, we have pretty much gone through everything that women can share (with each other) ... kids' stuff, death of a parent, cancer, job loss, moving, court cases ... Mostly it's fun. Twice a year, the girls go away on a retreat and actually do a lot of quilting. Those are very special times."

Quilting is often a platform for women to express their emotions which may not have found another outlet in this fast-paced life. During trying times, members, irrespective of cultures or nationalities, join hands in a gesture of solidarity.

The DQG meets once a month from September through June, while a handful of bees have weekly meetings throughout the year. (Bees are smaller groups of 10 - 12 quilters.) The highlight of the year is perhaps the Annual Quilt Show.

The meetings are occasions for members to exchange quilting tips and art-related ideas that could inspire new quilts. As an organised group, it is also a means to learn and hone leadership and organisational skills. Members also get an opportunity to display their works at monthly or weekly meetings.

Internationally-renowned instructors are invited to conduct classes in quilting, thus offering members an opportunity to keep abreast of the latest in quilting techniques.

An outlet for creativity
While quilting for many is a creative outlet, some even find it therapeutic. "A lot of people find hand-quilting very restful and enjoyable. A great way to get rid of stress is to sit down and lose yourself in getting those stitches in there," says Trish Shaw, president of DQG.

For Amal, quilting is a relaxing way to produce beautiful things. "When you are angry or tired or alone, my best friend is my quilting. (Working on a quilt) is a beautiful feeling."

Penni Klick, PR coordinator of DQG, says, "The design of a unique quilt can be interpreted as a personal statement of feelings by the quilter. Some quilters use quilting as an artistic outlet, just as any artist or sculptor (who would use paints or clay or stone for exhibiting his talent).''

It takes a quilter the same kind of focus, determination and creativity to design and complete her artwork in order to share her personal statement with the world - the only difference is her choice of subject matter and medium, she adds.

Getting started
Every year, the guild has a Block of The Month (BOM) project. One member (called the BOM designer) from a group of 25, designs a quilt, then purchases the fabrics and embellishments required for making 25 copies of this original quilt.

She makes 25 kits which will be distributed to each of the members. Each kit includes fabrics and a set of instructions to be worked on for a month. The second month, an updated kit with instructions and fabrics to take the quilt to the next step is distributed. Nine such kits are distributed (one for every month) from September to May.

The BOM designer will answer any query related to the project and will be available for assistance should any member experience a hitch in completing the quilt.

At the end of 9 months, these 25 women will have completed their quilts and, apart from some individual touches of creativity, the 25 quilts should look quite the same.

The BOM is an opportunity for members to learn new techniques, besides creating a quilt whose design may not be available in any book or magazine.

Buy it or make it?
'Why make a quilt when you can buy one' is often a question posed to quilters. "When I give a quilt to someone, it's (a symbol of the) personal time, effort and in most cases, love. Instead of buying a gift I want to ... give them a part of me," says Marcia Irving.

Because special moments in life very often inspire the creation of a quilt, each quilt may have different emotions attached to it.

A block for a quilt which you wish to present someone who is not well may be very different from the one you are planning to gift a friend who has just had a baby, says Trish Shaw. The emotions underlying each of these creations may be totally different and would reflect in the choice of fabric, the kind of prints, often even in the stitch patterns used.

In their genes
Ask almost any quilter what made her take up quilting as a hobby and she is likely to say that she had seen her mother, grandmother or aunt enjoying working on one. They might also have been recipients of such lovingly-made quilts and are now keen to pass on this art form to their kids.

Says Penni, "My grandmother quilted for at least 60 of her 102 years. I have a quilt made by her that is at least 70 years old. It's an heirloom and is something that I will treasure."

Marcia too has a cherished quilt that she still proudly clings to - it is one that her mother spread in her crib when Marcia was a baby! Now she is working on quilts for each of her children.

Trish, too, has made quilts that could one day be heirlooms. "I have presented quilts to my sisters as wedding gifts and I know they will pass them on to their children."

But not all quilts are created to end up as heirlooms. "Quilts are for enjoying,'' says Kath Morrison, "and if they survive well enough to become an heirloom, so be it." Marianne Sheldon agrees: "Today, I make quilts to be used and loved!"

The thought behind the quilt
Apart from the occasion, the personality of the person for whom the quilt is being made too should be kept in mind when choosing the colour scheme, patterns, etc.

Imaginative quilters often create their very own exclusive patterns but beginners do not have to despair. There are several quilting books offering designs and patterns as well as websites where one can find quilt designs.

Computer programs are also available to assist in designing a quilt. The DQG has an extensive lending library of quilting books and publications.

The members in the guild, too, are always ready to offer help and guidance.

"Each bee has members with various levels of experience. Whenever a member has a problem with some aspect during the making of a quilt, a more experienced member will be ready to step in and help her," says Penni.

Using quilting techniques and patterns as a foundation, ingenious quilters make a wide variety of items - from fabric postcards to king-sized bed quilts. "Often leftover scraps get converted into items such as purses, carry bags, hot pads, wall hangings, book covers, vests ..." says Penni.

All it requires is a little imagination and a passion to create, and you can end up with something that you and your loved ones will cherish for years.
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