Vashon’s Community Quilt garners praise and raises funds, year after year

Veteran quilter Angela Weiss points out just how ornate this quilt is. Some squares, she noted, have a three-dimensional element — such as this sunflower panel by Chris McGrath, where one of the petals pops off the quilt.  - Natalie Johnson/staff photo
Veteran quilter Angela Weiss points out just how ornate this quilt is. Some squares, she noted, have a three-dimensional element — such as this sunflower panel by Chris McGrath, where one of the petals pops off the quilt.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/staff photo

Among the locally grown flowers at the Vashon Allied Arts Garden Tour, Islanders can find some locally sewn color as well. Those who take the tour this weekend should be sure to stop at Garden No. 5 to see the VAA Community Quilt, which will be raffled off during the Strawberry Festival to support the VAA.

For the 25th anniversary of the celebrated project, quilters chose to pay homage to the 20th anniversary of the Garden Tour, crafting a quilt that displays a wide array of garden life — both plant and animal — found on the Island.

Historically, the quilt has reflected what was happening in the community at the time, said quilt coordinator Catholine Tribble. “One year they did mailboxes because they changed the addresses. … This year we thought we would do a thank you for the people who open their gardens to us,” she said.

Though a community quilt has been a yearly tradition since 1986, the first quilt was actually raffled off in 1978. Laura Harris White, who spearheaded the project that first year, said the 1978 quilt was the collaborative work of 25 local artists, rather than quilters as it is now.

“At that time there was a real resurgence in interest in visual arts,” she said. “It was one of the mechanisms we used to bring artists together and make people aware of the arts on Vashon… We could hang it in different stores and it generated a lot of interest in Vashon Allied Arts.”

Islander Chris Beck, who wrote grants for the VAA and also helped with the first community quilt, recalls spending an entire weekend with Harris White, working long into the night to finish the quilt, which looked quite different than recent years’ quilts.

“Imagine a big quilt with the patches around the border,” she said. “In the middle was a giant map of Vashon.”

Though she can’t recall how much money the quilt raised that first year, Harris White is certain it was a success. “It was more about public awareness that the actual money that was generated, and bringing the community together,” she said.

However, as Vashon artists became busier and the VAA chose to focus its fundraising efforts differently, the project was forced to take a hiatus until a group of individuals brought it back to life in 1978.

Harris White, who now lives in West Seattle, is continuously impressed with what the community quilt has become, describing more recent quilts as amazingly ornate and sophisticated.

“We were the seed that started it and now it’s blossomed into a tradition,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing for Chris and I to know we were involved in the beginning.”

This year’s quilt, which was unveiled at First Friday in April and has been on display around Vashon since, has been a hit with Islanders, Tribble said.

“Everybody tells me it’s the best quilt ever,” she said.

Heron’s Nest manager George Wright said she is amazed by the beauty and quality of this year’s quilt and looks forward to displaying it in her shop beginning June 29.

“I think it’s fabulous,” she said. “Every year they do a better job than the year before, which is saying a lot because every year it’s fabulous.”

Among the 16 colorful squares on the quilt, titled Our Bloomin’ Vashon, are a pig poking his head out of a hypericum bush by Karen Nebe, a deer helping itself to a flower by Annie Miksch and a quaint garden shed surrounded with plants by Marilyn Fox.

Wright is especially impressed with the time and skill that locals put into the quilt each year.

“They are just tireless,” she said. “It’s a great example of the talent we have on Vashon.”

One of the most intricate squares on the quilt was sewn by former Islander Angela Weiss. A garden scene inspired by photos she took at last year’s Garden Tour, Weiss says the square took her around 50 hours to sew.

Weiss started quilting a decade ago specifically so she could help with the Community Quilt. Though she no longer lives on Vashon, Weiss says the community quilt helps her stay connected with friends on the Island and continue to give back to the place she loves.

“I’m proud it raises so much money for the VAA,” she said.

Raffle ticket sales are right on track, and Tribble, known for doggedly marketing the quilt each year, thinks they will meet their goal of selling 5,000 tickets. Still, Tribble is concerned that a lingering recession could dampen sales.

“People are more careful with their money; they may buy two or three tickets instead of five,” she said. “No one’s bought the 10,000 that I’ve offered yet.”

At the same time, Tribble is pleased that she and her fellow quilters can do their part to help the VAA each year and attributes their success to the remarkable community support the quilt continues to garner. Last year, the project raised $4,700.

“For the amount of time that goes into the quilt, we don’t make a lot of money,” she said. “But we add a little something to their budget every year, and we add a little community spirit. ... Everybody is very supportive.”

Tribble said many who purchase raffle tickets simply want to support the VAA rather than win the quilt, opting to write the name of a local organization on the ticket.

One such ticket was drawn last year, and the quilt — an art-inspired one with squares paying tribute to Vashon’s many artists — went to Vashon Community Care.

While Tribble loves the community aspect of the quilt, she especially enjoys spending time and forming relationships with fellow quilters on the Island.

“It sort of brings people together with a variety of viewpoints and talents, and we enjoy each other,” she said. “We’ve become friends over the years.”

View the quilt

Island Quilter: Now through June 25

VAA Garden Tour, Garden No. 5: June 26 to 27

Heron’s Nest: June 29 to July 16

Strawberry Festival: July 1 to 18

Farmers Market: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays

The drawing is at 4 p.m. on July 18.

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