Crazy Quilters take a handcrafted approach to helping
BY RACHEL INSWASTY
There wasn’t much to do in Port St. Lucie in 1993. Activities and clubs were scarce in the quickly growing community. So, neighbors Dolores Knight and Lorene Gruber thought it would be worthwhile to start a small group for people who liked to sew and quilt. They invited six other women to meet at Knight’s home to quilt together, on a weekly basis. It only took two meetings before they had to start looking for larger, more permanent quarters at the Port St. Lucie Branch Library.
“They called themselves the ‘Crazy Quilters’ and the name has stuck ever since,” says Linda Smiley, the current president of what has grown into the Crazy Quilters Guild. “We are a bit batty at times. But we are also a loyal, fun and kind group of ladies who really enjoy helping others, and learning from one another.”
Smiley worked as an educator for more than 40 years. Shortly after she retired in 2009, a neighbor urged Smiley to attend a quilt show. She was hooked. Her neighbor taught Smiley to quilt; she joined the Crazy Quilters and has held her elected position as president for the past five years. “There are women here from so many different walks of life,” she says, “The socialization is my favorite part — and just how very giving and talented everyone is. This group amazes me.”
Paulette Lacroix moved from New Hampshire in 2007 and has been in charge of the group’s philanthropy for nearly five years. Her constant efforts to give back to the community have not gone unnoticed. In fact, they’ve become a large part of the guild’s mission.
“We have many members who are continuously making items for our local nursing homes, doctors’ offices, things of that nature,” Lacroix says, “A member, Trudi Shiverdecker, has made 365 walker bags. It’s amazing.”
Lacroix will often drive around with items made by the guild — walker bags, placemats, baby blankets, caps for chemotherapy patients — to give out to people in need. Local fabric shops such as Pam’s Fabric Nook, Laura’s Sewing & Quilts and The Inspired Sewist, have donated countless yards of fabric to the group for the philanthropic projects the group creates at “sew-ins.” “It is really wonderful to have support from our community members in that way,” Smiley says.
Last year the group made Christmas stockings for 510 foster children in St. Lucie County. “Our most recent sew-in was reserved for making pillowcases,” Lacroix says. “Some of those have since been stuffed and given to residents of the Alzheimer’s Community Care center at St. Andrew Lutheran Church.” Two years ago, the Crazy Quilters made more than 400 placemats for The Council on Aging and delivered them to homebound senior citizens throughout St. Lucie County. They still continue to sew placemats, to give away throughout the year.
While philanthropy counts for a large part of their efforts, the Crazy Quilters are very much absorbed in learning new techniques and skills. The group’s programs coordinator, Karen Malio, has been instrumental in creating new workshops, demonstrations and themes for the group. Malio has been sewing since she was 8 years old and has been part of the group for 10 years. “My mother and grandmother taught me,” Malio says. “I first started on one of those old treadle machines that uses a foot pedal; no electricity and you just pump it. Being part of this group is wonderful and it’s so much fun.”
She’s been in charge of coming up with fun themes for workshops and meetings. Over the past couple of months, they made small totes, zip bags and quilts — all with summer-inspired designs. “I try to figure out what the current interest is within the group,” Malio says. “So sometimes we have meetings with a ‘meet the quilter’ component, where we get to know a member in-depth and take a look at some of their work, as well.” Some of the workshops in 2023 include placemats, Christmas ornaments, miniature Christmas tree skirts and UFOs [unfinished objects]. Members who attend meetings can pick up a kit that contains full instructions and materials for each workshop.
“These are not your grandmother’s quilts anymore,” says Trish Harrison, webmaster and social media manager. “I’ve been quilting for over 20 years, and the new styles of quilt-making and fabrics are absolutely incredible.” Harrison, a member since 2017, has been sewing since the 9th grade. As a teenager, she made clothes and accessories for herself. Nowadays, she is always on the hunt for a quilting challenge. “In 2020, I challenged myself to make a reproduction of a Jane Stickle quilt from 1863,” she says. “Stickle was an American artist who sewed a quilt that was made up of over 5,000 pieces. She used whatever fabric she had access to at the time.”
The huge project took Harrison just under a year. In order to help streamline the process, she joined a “Block of the Month” club, which would send her fabric piecing to sew 4x5-inch quilt patterns. She named the quilt Kaffe Baby, paying homage to Kaffe Fassett, a fabric designer renowned in the quilting and sewing world. Harrison’s quilt won Best of Show at the guild’s biennial in 2020, judged by a National Quilting Association Certified Judge.
The Crazy Quilters are a generous, welcoming bunch, happy to share a wealth of information on many quilting patterns, techniques and styles. Meetings are held at the Port St. Lucie Branch Library, 180 SW Prima Vista Blvd., every first and third Wednesday. Workshops, demonstrations and sew-ins are held every second and fourth Wednesday. Fifth Wednesdays, which happen four times a year, are reserved for philanthropic projects.
In 2024, the guild will hold its biennial quilt show, Quilting in Paradise, on Feb 2-3, at the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Event Center. Admission is $10 a day, or $15 for both days. Attendees can expect to see a plethora of detailed quilts and a variety of vendors. The group’s boutique will be chock-full of handmade items, created throughout the year. As always, there will be a silent auction with prizes, such as finished quilts, kits, quilting tools, used sewing machines and more.
Visit www.PSLcrazyquilters.org or email webmaster@ pslcrazyquilters.org.
Sept. 4, 2023