Quilt Guild's annual show gaining notice, and not just from blanket lovers
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Feb. 27, 2004 -- When life gives you scraps, do what the members of the Sulphur Springs Lone Star Heritage Quilt Guild do--make a quilt and show it off.

Feb. 27, 2004 -- Quilting history has continuously revolved around social, artistic and economic opportunities for women, but more recently has begun to stitch its way into the fabric of society as a form of cultural and historical tourism, adding to the economic growth of communities, as well.

Last year's fifth annual Lone Star Heritage Quilt Show at the Hopkins County Fall Festival saw close to 3,000 viewers from 46 counties, 13 states and three foreign countries, according to data collected at the event.

"This is a group of ladies who have taken what they love to do, and they've done something with it that will ultimately benefit the whole community," said Frank Smith, director of tourism and promotion for Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County.

"We could be the next Paducah," he added laughing.

Paducah, Ky. -- Quilt City U.S.A. -- has a population of approximately 26,500 residents, but plays host to more than 40,000 quilt lovers each year, bringing 30,000 viewers and vendors into their community every spring for the American Quilt Show, making it one of the largest shows of its kind in the nation.

"Frank has been to Paducah and knows the potential," said Billie Ruth Standbridge, former president of the Lone Star Heritage Quilt Guild.

According to Smith, heritage and cultural tourism is growing in popularity.

"People are yearning for some sort of connection to the past," explained Smith. "Something reminiscent, reminding them of Grandma's house."

Smith said he has been impressed year after year with what members of the Lone Star Heritage Quilt Guild of Hopkins County have accomplished "without any outside help." After witnessing last year's numbers, he recommended the guild for a $2,000 tourism grant to help the organization with outside advertisement.

"It just made sense to help these ladies," he said. "Look at what they have been able to do without any resources other than membership dues. Imagine what they can do with a little help. I see them as an investment in our future. We're going to see a return with this."

Last year, according to Smith, the group was responsible for bringing vendors, exhibitors and families into at least 20 to 30 hotel rooms throughout Sulphur Springs.

"Vendors come where they think they are going to make sales," Smith explained. "You have fabric sales, threads, machines -- it's a snowball effect which trickles down to our eating establishments, gas stations, shopping. We as a community have an opportunity to grab on to the coat-tails of these ladies."

Standbridge said the guild's quilt show finally got its deserved attention after people saw the quality of work, as well as the numbers the show brought in, filling up the Sulphur Springs High School gymnasium.

"I don't think anyone really expected that," said Standbridge. "Without a doubt we have grown beyond our guild."

According to Standbridge, the group has always had a lot of cooperation from the Hopkins County Fall Festival committee and support from Sew Many Quilts owner Zella White, but financially they have been "on their own."

Funds from the tourism grant will allow the guild to distribute approximately 10,000 flyers throughout Texas and post ads with magazines, HGTV, newspapers and tourism guides.

"We would like to work toward more of a team effort with our local news, radio, and the Fall Festival committee," explained Deanna Hasten, publicity chairperson for the guild. "We're all working toward the same goal anyway -- getting people to Sulphur Springs. That's what it's all about."

Founded in 1998 by Elise Brewer, the purpose of the guild is not only to bring folks to Sulphur Springs, but to preserve the heritage of quilting, promote the knowledge and understanding of the art, provide opportunities for continued education among interested parties and a gathering place to promote friendships among those with a common interest.

And the interest is obviously growing.

The guild started with about 20 members, according to current guild president Jan Bartley, and has continued to grow each year, with last year's memberships reaching about 70 members.

According to Standbridge, there are numerous reasons people join the quilt guild, such as an interest in learning how to quilt, wanting to be involved in the community, people who are new to the area, the newly widowed, or those who just like the fellowship and enjoyment of quilting with others.

"It's wonderful fellowship," said Hasten.

"And though we appreciate all of the above," added Standbridge. "Our passion really is putting on the quilt show."

Just after their first year, the guild began organizing a small show with mainly toppers and a few quilts which were displayed in one of the rooms at the high school during the Hopkins County Fall Festival.

"We had trouble even getting townspeople to show their family quilts," remembered Standbridge. "People felt they didn't want to show them because they were old, stained, worn--but that's what we want. The point of a quilt show is to get them off the shelves and out of the closets."

Standbridge said that it became an educational project on the part of the guild members to convince people that "this is valuable stuff."

"Now, we have people calling from all over the place wanting to show their quilts," said Hasten, who claims they now have to turn some down.

"We're showing pieces of history," explained Standbridge. "Those old quilts were utility quilts that served a significant purpose for the times in which they were made. Most of them were made of old flour sacks. People had to use their resources -- old scrap pieces of whatever they had."

Standbridge said that one of their members has a 100-year-old quilt made out of old Bull Durham tobacco bags, with the back constructed of old feed mill sacks.

Taking the view of "timeless treasures of tomorrow," the show has now generated so much interest that for the past two years it has moved into the high school's gymnasium, which allows them the capacity to hang 112 quilts, plus wall hangings. The event also showcases a "feature quilt," a donation quilt that is raffled, and then ends with an auction of some of the quilts to raise money for the organization, with proceeds then going to Hopkins County Hospice, Family Haven and the Northeast Texas Food Bank. The guild can also be credited for the handicap ramp built at the Wilson House in Heritage Park, as well as the donation and distribution of baby quilts throughout the year for the the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center.

This year's donation quilt is the "Patriotic Lone Star" with raffle tickets being sold from January until the drawing at the Fall Festival.

This year's feature is an American Spirit Collection, shown throughout the nation, which includes a "Ground Zero" quilt with every diamond shape in the Lone Star design displaying a picture of a person killed during the attack of Sept. 11.

"It's going to be a stunning display," Standbridge said.

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