Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fabric of Life the 'Oldness' of Quilts and Their Hidden Stories Intrigue an Amelia Island Couple Who Collect Them

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fabric of Life the 'Oldness' of Quilts and Their Hidden Stories Intrigue an Amelia Island Couple Who Collect Them

Article excerpt

She admires their colors, their patterns, the skill and patience that made possible their countless tiny stitches. But to Karen Warner's mind, something more was sewn into the antique quilts she and her husband Bob collect with such ardor -- something barely tangible, something she is almost reluctant to explain to a stranger.

It's a story. The story of people, their only-to-be-guessed-at history, their literal blood and sweat and tears -- look closely and you might see the dark spot where a needle pricked a finger. Under these blankets lovers loved, mothers labored, grandparents died, children slept warm and safe. They saw young brides and old friends off to new homes and helped them remember their old ones.

All that living does not end upon entering Karen and Bob Warner's collection. Rather than sitting in tissue paper in climate-controlled archives, their quilts adorn the walls and grace the backs of chairs and -- most appropriately -- continue to be used in the guest rooms of their Florida House Inn on Amelia Island.

"If you can't see them and touch them and enjoy them, what good are they?" said Karen Warner. "Quilts are friendly things. They're very benevolent things."

Many others agree, of course, enough to have learned the old art of quilt-making themselves, thought to have sprung out of rural need some 200 years ago. Quilt collecting and making has undergone a few revivals since that time, in the 1920s and '30s, again around the U.S. bicentennial in the 1970s, and now around the turn of this latest century. Necessity may not be what it once was, and modern sewing machines may have changed the process many use to make them, but quilts are beloved by many and for many reasons.

"This is an American art form that may disappear if we don't keep it going," said Jan Walker of Jacksonville, who started quilting classes at Florida Community College at Jacksonville two years ago. The free-form classes, on top of being instructional, are a sort of modern equivalent of the old-fashioned quilting bee, with women from many different walks of life coming together as much for the socializing as the sewing. "It's just so much fun," she said. "It is kind of like a quilting bee in a way. It's a fellowship type of thing. We just do have a lot of fun."

Maryjane Amato, president of a quilting guild called the St. Augustine Piecemakers, said it is the same with that group of women, coming together out of the mutual love of the quilting arts, which now go far beyond bed covers to clothing, wallhangings and much more.

"It's just kind of a neat thing, kind of like joining a church," she laughed. "There's always a lot of community and things in common."

The Warners, who don't have the time or inclination to be quilt makers themselves, feel this in the quilts they collect -- the bonds between people that quilts symbolize. …

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