Quilt Festival Bids Farewell

By Jen ThomasPrint Story | Email Story
Florence and Angela Brett admire some of the quilts at the 25th annual Berkshire Quilt Festival on Sunday.
PITTSFIELD - For the dozen or so "crazy ladies" who organize the annual Berkshire Quilt Festival, the silver anniversary was a bittersweet landmark. After 25 years of themed quilt shows, complete with raffles, contests and gallery talks, the 13-person committee is calling it quits, hosting the local favorite for the last time this weekend. "A lot of us have been doing this for a long time and it's just the right time," Debra Rogers-Gillig, the raffle quilt coordinator for the festival. "It was a joy ride, but we just can’t do it anymore." Sponsored by Alumni and Friends of Berkshire Community College, the quilt festival is a fundraiser for four $1,000 college scholarships given to BCC nontraditional students. Held annually on Columbus Day weekend at the college, the two-day event draws hundreds to see quilts, wall hangings, vests and anything else that can be quilted. "It's just a big show and tell," said Rogers-Gillig, who has been involved with the show for 21 years. "It’s very laid back and easy going. There’s no judging, no pressure, just 'look what I did.'" In addition to the 220 pieces from 150 artists this year, one of the biggest draws for area quilters is the dozens of vendors who offer fabric and thread, as well as advice, at the festival each year. "Nothing will get a quilter to salivate quicker than tons and tons of fabric," Rogers-Gillig said. Daniel Sullivan, owner of Pumpkin Patch Quilts in Lee, has been coming to the Berkshire Quilt Festival for nearly 20 years and he said he's seen the popularity of quilting increase over the years. "More people are quilting today than 20 years ago and it has as much to do with the fabrics as anything else," Sullivan said. "Sure, there's new machines and new technology, but it's the fabrics that have caused a real surge. With so many options, it's definitely becoming an art form." For Rogers-Gillig, a self-proclaimed "quilt addict," the process of making a quilt has become a mode of expression. "For as many people that come to the show, you have that many reasons for quilting," she said. "For some of us, it's our art form and if we don't do it, we'll go crazy. For others, it's gift-making. Some people will use just about any excuse to make a quilt." The show itself acts as an inspiration for many to try new techniques and get ideas for their own future projects. "The works are all interesting, especially trying to figure out how they work," said Tammy Donovan, while admiring "Thank God It's Finally Finished" by Janyce Broude of Bennington, Vt. The piece - called "TGIFF" for short - took "a whole bunch of years" and approximately 725 pieces of fabric to create. Rogers-Gillig said she expected the number of attendees to have been in the thousands as a result of the warm Berkshire autumn weather and the long weekend. "There’s just nothing like the fall," she said. As the committee members admired the exhibits one last time, Rogers-Gillig said the event had just run its course. "The scholarships will be fine and maybe the festival will re-form in another location by someone else," she said. Angela Brett, who came to the festival Sunday afternoon with her mother, Florence, said she didn’t think the Berkshire Quilt Festival was quite done. "There might be a brief break, but there will be another place and another way," Brett said. Sullivan echoed those remarks. "I don’t think they'll really let it go. I just can’t see them dropping it, but we’ll see," he said. Whether or not it truly is the end for the quilt festival, some committee members said the 25th anniversary show topped them all. "Every show is better than the year before," said Show Secretary Christine Hover. "And this year was the best."
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