Phyllis Thornton, of Washougal, has participated in many quilting clubs during the past 40 years, but her current group, the Cape Horn Quilters, holds a special place in her heart.
“This group is just amazing,” said Thornton. “They are people from all different walks of life and all different skill levels, but come together under one roof and seem to be really enjoying it and thriving. Some of the newer quilters are thrilled to death to get some free lessons and build new skills that they didn’t have before. Some of the seasoned ones are happy to be in a group of like-minded people who all have the same goal in common.”
Thornton said the group is bonded over a shared passion for quilting.
“You get a group of women together and sometimes it can be challenging. But, honestly, this group is pleasant, kind, happy and content,” she said. “There are no whiners and no complainers.”
The group will show off its work this weekend, during its first quilt show. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3, at the American Legion Cape Horn Post 122, 10221 Washougal River Road, Washougal.
Thornton hoped to join a quilt group after moving to Washougal in 2018. She found one that met in Vancouver, but didn’t want to drive that far and started thinking about starting a group of her own.
“Back in 2019, I said, ‘We should really think about a quilt show because there’s obviously a lot of quilters in our community,” Thornton said. “We want to show people what we’re doing, and we might inspire someone else to come join us.”
She eventually secured a meeting spot at the American Legion building, not far away from her residence on Washougal River Road, thanks to serendipity.
“I kept passing that American Legion building and I kept thinking, ‘Gosh, that would be the perfect place to have a quilting group,'” she said. “Just by happenstance, a lady contacted me who wanted me to do a quilt for her on my big long-arm (machine). When she came to bring her quilt, I started visiting with her and said, ‘I would really love to find out information about that American Legion building because I’d like to start a group here.’ She said, ‘I might be able to help you out with that. My husband is the commander of that post. Why don’t you come to our next meeting and we’ll talk about it?'”
At the meeting, Thornton told the legion members that she’d like to use the facility once or twice a month for group meetings and that, in lieu of rent, the group would give them one queen-size quilt each month to raffle off.
Ater the legion members approved her proposal, Thornton posted fliers in public locations around Washougal and Skamania County, hoping to generate interest in the group.
“For our first meeting, I knew of only two people who would show up — me and a girlfriend who lived just down the road from me who also was a quilter,” Thornton said. “I said, ‘Well, Joan, it might just be the two of us.’ But to my surprise, 28 people showed up.”
Since then, group members have met on the third Thursday of every month to work on their own projects as well as “charity quilts” they donate to organizations and individuals in need. The group met virtually during the height of the pandemic.
“At our first meeting I said, ‘If you are willing to give me 15 minutes of your time every time we meet, I’d like to do some charity quilts (to give) to the community,'” Thornton said. “They were all in agreement with that. There are a couple of gals who only come to work on the charity quilts, in fact. The quilts are special because they’re always a group effort.”
Thornton has found quilters tend to be generous people.
“Most quilters are driven to create quilts constantly, so their families, typically, end up with more quilts than they have room for. But you still have this need to keep creating … so you keep making quilts, but you have to find someplace to take them because you can’t store all of them and don’t need them, so you find a charity.”
The group has given quilts to two local families who “lost everything” in house fires; the Skamania County Sheriff’s Department; the Camas-Washougal Fire Department; and an American Legion member whose son died from COVID-19.
The ladies are currently producing baby quilts and receiving blankets for the Pathways Pregnancy Clinic in Washougal.
Camas resident and group member Peri Muhich said it’s nice to know the group is making a difference in the community.
“For somebody who’s lost everything in a fire and has nothing, to receive a quilt, that can mean a lot. Or for the ladies at the pregnancy center, sometimes that’s the first blanket or quilt that their child will get,” Muhich said. “It does feel really good to know we’re giving back to the community.”
The group members share quilting techniques at meetings.
“Usually, Phyllis will have some kind of technique that she’ll demonstrate,” Muhich said. “There are a lot of people with different levels of experience, and everybody helps each other and has tips that they can share. It’s really a lot of fun to work together. We like being a small group. We get to know each other and it’s a lot of fun.”
Though creativity draws the quilters in, the social component of the group keeps them coming back, Muhich said.
“During COVID, it’s been really important to (have) those connections,” she said. “Even though we couldn’t always get together, just knowing we were doing things and still contributing to the community felt really good.”
The upcoming show will feature “probably 20 to 30” quilts, according to Muhich as well as awards and door prizes. Proceeds raised from the $5 entrance fee will be donated to the Washougal American Legion’s holiday baskets program.
“I’m hoping to have hundreds of people come through the door at $5 a pop and donate to the Legion,” Thornton said.
And for those who can’t make it this year, Thornton said the group plans to make the quilt show an annual event: “During the first show I’m going to be reminding everybody on the loudspeaker, ‘This will be an annual event. Put us on your calendar for next year,'” she said.