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Quilters stitch together community and culture at the Kentucky State Fair

Quilters with Project Linus sit at a table at the Kentucky State Fair. They're working quilts using sewing machines.
Breya Jones
Volunteers with Project Linus put their quilting skills to good use making blankets for children facing traumatic situations.

The Kentucky State Fair hosts several competitions challenging makers to bring their very best crafts to the forefront. The quilts on display at the Exposition Center speak to both culture and community in the commonwealth.

Scores of quilts hang on clotheslines in the East Hall, flanked by antiques and homemade door decorations.

“You'll find a variety of quilts both traditional hand-pieced, hand-quilted, as well as some very modern interpretations of old patterns,” said Susan Hoferkamp, superintendent of the textile department at the Kentucky State Fair.

The area attracts groups of people who meander through the rows, pointing out details that become more clear up close.

Competitors from many generations entered the contest this year.

“So you see everything from a young person that's in or their first item in our junior division, to maybe a little more experienced quilter, who this might be her 50th quilt that she's made,” said Hoferkamp.

As the art form continues to draw in newcomers every year, quilting’s deep ties to the state become clear.

“The ability to sit down with just needle and thread which is the same thing that a woman 100 years ago had or 200 years ago had you're picking up that same needle that same thimble that same thread and cloth and creating something you're carrying on that tradition,” said Hoferkamp.

The art form connects generations of families.

Julie Kemper is a curator for the Kentucky Historical Society. She said from very early on in its history in the United States, quilting grew into something beyond a utilitarian practice.

“It was not only about keeping your family warm, but it's also about the pride of craftsmanship and the skills that women have,” Kemper said. “It's about training the younger generation for it, you know, very early on, so it has a lot of connection to women and the home.”

Kemper said as quilts continue to grow as an art form, they become prized possessions.

“That's because there are so few people who still have that skill and that knowledge and you know, and even the equipment I mean if you get a good one wilting frame, you know that that takes up room,” Kemper said. “And for someone who's only going to do it once in a while, it's difficult.”

A bit away from the quilt display, a group of crafters were working on quilts in the East Hall. They were showing off the process of making a quilt while promoting Project Linus.

The non-profit organization creates handmade quilts and blankets for children experiencing adverse situations.

“We like to call them warm hugs so that they know that they're surrounded with that warm hug as they're going through these traumatic experiences in life,” said Marsha Drescher, the Louisville Metro Project Linus coordinator.

Brenda Moore is one of the quilt-makers with the group. She said the love they put into their textiles lives on throughout the life of the quilt.

“We were able to donate quilts to Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky last year and we know how appreciated those were,” Moore said. “And that just comes from the love of putting thread and fabric together and making something with it and passing it on.”

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.