Traditionally made with form and function in mind, lovingly stitched together from various pieces of material found around the household, quilts have been elevated as an art form over time. And for good reason. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but the time, skill and patience that goes into each one’s creation is truly something to be admired.
With the goal of celebrating the culture, history and beauty of quilts, the inaugural Festival of Quilts was held in 2019 in Bay de Verde (a small town in Conception Bay on the northern tip of the Bay de Verde Peninsula). The festival, which also incorporates the nearby communities of Red Head Cove and Grates Cove, also came about from a shared vision to help develop the tourism potential of the area – and it’s a goal that’s clearly being achieved.
“We did a bunch of projects and this was the one that really stuck,” says Dee Riggs, festival coordinator.
“In Newfoundland and Labrador, we all know there’s a strong quilting culture. It’s pretty much an international movement. So there are groups and guilds, and of course down in our area, there’s a bunch of ladies who get together every week and…share and learn from each other. So it was kind of a built-in team of volunteers and people who were very excited to work on something like that. So it kind of went hand in hand with maker tourism.”
While the festival team anticipated a couple of hundred people to show up for their first event, they were pleased to receive well over 1,000 visitors. And while the pandemic put the event on pause the past two summers, the team found other creative ways to celebrate quilting culture, including producing a series of videos called “Common Threads” for the Bay de Verde tourism website, and hosting a community “Hangout” whereby local residents displayed their quilts on their own clotheslines, creating a colourful tapestry for all to enjoy.
This summer, the festival, which Riggs calls a “photographer’s dream,” is back in full force. Running from August 19-21, quilt lovers and makers alike can enjoy beautiful quilt displays at the churches and halls in the three communities (as well as along the clotheslines sprinkled throughout the area), in addition to presentations, demonstrations and workshops, including a block print workshop with Diana Daly, a landscape quilting workshop with Colleen McLean, a presentation/Q&A with Corey Follett of The Quilted Stash, and more.
Planning an event during a pandemic, Riggs says, adds another layer of complexity. That’s why this year, they’re working with a new local company called PFS Health Solutions (who have also come on as a sponsor of the event) to bring in air and surface purification systems to add an additional layer of safety.
Of course, an event that helps draw visitors to the area is beneficial for local businesses as well.
“I want everyone to benefit from this. It’s all about growing tourism. All our B&Bs are doing really well on that weekend, the restaurants will do well on that weekend. We provide opportunities for recreation committees,” Riggs says.
Jimmy’s Place B&B in Bay de Verde is just one example of a business that sees the value of an event like the Festival of Quilts.
“We support the festival, we recognize the need for those types of events to keep our small communities thriving. The festival also brings people together through artwork, history and passion for the craft,” says Jen Sutton Walsh, who adds that the business also benefits from reservations and extra dining during the festival’s run.
Ultimately, Riggs says, she and her team hope to grow the festival to become a destination event for quilters, travellers, and anyone who appreciates quilts and the special stories that are stitched into them.
“I’ve always sort of said that I want this to grow to be an international festival…I want to see it happen every single year moving forward.”
To learn more about the Festival of Quilts, click here.
Cover photo by Ray Mackey.