Be Captivated by 60 Special Exhibit Quilts at the

GAAQG 2024 Quilt Show

By Camie Roper

Two quilts shown side by side. Vase with colorful flowers and modern quilt black squares on beige with projection line quilting
Left to right: Ugly Fabric Challenge - Quilt by Pat Weber and Bilious Green Challenge Quilt by Deb Spring

Our guild has several small groups of 5-20+ members. For each quilt show, several groups envision a theme, and challenge members to create pieces to exhibit in an artistic assemblage known as Special Exhibits.

This year, five groups will bedazzle us with 48 pieces, plus a solo exhibit of 12 quilts. The groups are the Book Club Challenge, Creative Seasons, Design Conversations, Eight-Mile Radius, Knot Even Quilters, and a solo series from Debbie Grifka.

The Book Club Challenge invited the entire guild to create a book-themed piece. Any size or shape, with three layers sewn together, qualified. These will be intriguing….

One small group, Creative Seasons, “has exhibited at every GAAQG Quilt Show since 2012, maybe since 2008,” according to Mary Beth Donovan, who, with Carol Makielski, founded the group in April 2007. Several past guild presidents, including Sonja Hagen, Wanda Nash, Susan Schwandt, Kathy Schmidt, and Lynne Bryant, are among its members.

Design Conversations “Whisper Challenge,” Eight-Mile Radius “Ugly Fabric Challenge,” and Knot Even Quilters “Bilious Green Fight Challenge” round out the Small Groups submissions.

Debbie Grifka, an Ann Arbor-based textile artist, teacher, and author, as well as a longtime GAAQG member, submitted a 12-piece solo exhibit. Her story of “Patterns of Making” is interesting. She finished two quilts by hand during the first eight months of the pandemic and found handwork “deeply satisfying and calming.” Handwork helped her get through the uncertainty of the pandemic. Vaccines were not yet available, and her “calm began to fracture.” She participated in a Sketchbook Challenge, and Patterns of Making “poured” out of her. The sketches were straight, clear lines, and she made about 20. This process was not her usual process. “The number and pace of the ideas that became ‘Patterns of Making’ were as unusual for me as the times during which they were made.” Debbie feels fortunate the body of work helped her make it through the pandemic.

Kathy Schmidt loves a good challenge and shares her perspective on two of her art quilt groups with Special Exhibits in the show.

In the small art quilt group Creative Seasons, “obeying the rules is always optional,” said Kathy. Their challenge this year is called “Hand of the Maker.” Participants had to include the form of a hand in the design and meet a size requirement. Kathy says, “As often happens for me, the quilt idea jumped full-blown into my brain. All I could think of was the cute animals that elementary students draw from their hands. I wished to express the joy of those young artists as they create something from the outline of their own hand. And my joy in seeing those delightful animals is shown by adding a little glitz and foo-foo embellishment to the design.”

Knot Even Quilters is a “freewheeling” group trying to “embrace and experiment with new techniques.” Its challenges are based on color, themes, design principles, blind fabric bag picks, and recycling.

“The Knot Even Quilters group had an entirely different challenge to explore. Quilt artist Ann Stamm Merrell fought a long battle with cancer and in her work ‘bilious green’ became her symbol of that horrible disease. She left behind bits and pieces of incomplete work and her family offered it to our group to finish her work, in our own way. Each group member then had to design and stitch an art quilt with a palette that they did not choose, sizes they did not plan and random colors and pieces that they may have never selected or created on their own, always with some bilious green to honor her battle.

Kathy says challenges help improve skills, “refresh knowledge of good design principles,” and meet deadlines. They provide an opportunity to imagine a specific theme. Random, limited materials add to the enjoyable, intellectual challenge. 

“One of the advantages of taking part in a challenge is that we learn from it and push ourselves artistically. Designing is never easy, and randomness adds a new level of difficulty. Not every group is interested in challenges. The purpose of your group may not fit it at all. Your group may want to try one to see if you like it. The groups to which I belong love the fun of creating art to a set of rules, which we often also happily ignore. Challenges can be created from almost any idea!”

“To get started” Schmidt says, “Google something like ‘quilt guild design challenges.’ Explore what other groups have tried. You may have ideas of your own already, waiting for your group to hear about and try. Never forget, though, that the major attraction of any good challenge is to make it fun!”

We hope you are setting aside July 27-28 for the Biennial Celebrate Our Quilts 2024 at the Washtenaw Community College Morris Lawrence Auditorium, and don’t miss the Special Exhibits. They will be very “special” indeed.

Quilted Book with button fastener in peachy color
Sewing Sampler Book by Sharyl Beal
Vertical wall quilt with black and grey background with three colorful hearts in center
Heartstrings by Erika Keith
Patterns of Making by Debbie Grifka
Quilt with hand holding needle and thread working on a complex quilt square
Two of My Favorite Things by Connie Cool