We’re a day late for this week’s Q.S.O.S. Sunday Spotlight, but we’re right on time for Labor Day here in the United States. While looking through our Q.S.O.S. stories, I noticed a trio of interviews with Vermont-based quilters, each of whom were involved with the Vermont Quilt Festival, which got its start at the Northfield, Vermont Labor Day festival. Though the Vermont Quilt Festival has moved, Northfield continues to have a Labor Day celebration each year.
This week, we’re featuring excerpts from 3 interviews, each about the way that a small-town festival influenced their own quiltmaking story.
Cyrena Persons told interview Nola Forbes about helping out at the first festival, where quilts were laid on the floor for judging:
“Nola Forde: Tell about some of your experiences with the Vermont Quilt Festival.
Cyrena Persons: That started out, the first that I knew about it, it may have started the previous year, in Northfield. At the Labor Day festival. I’m not sure what they call it, but Dick Cleveland decided that there should be a Quilt Show incorporated in this festival, this celebration. We met with another lady. […] Yes, Jeannie Hutchinson. We met at the Armory. [laughs.] Dick thought we ought to judge these quilts that came in. I don’t think there were more than five or six quilts. We had no way to hang them up. So somehow he had obtained some newsprint from the newspaper office. He laid it out. Rolled out this newsprint on the floor. A couple of layers of it.
NF: This was blank newsprint?
CP: Yes. We spread the quilts on it. Why, that was the beginning of my life. That was something else. We judged those quilts […] I’ve always been amazed at the progression of the show. It started out to be local quiltmakers. Then more and more antique quilts came in. I was able to write the commentary about the antique quilts for a time. It’s just a wonderful memory of going to those shows and seeing the progress that quiltmakers have made. The art quilts were developed along with that. Several years after the show got started, I think. It just amazes me. I am pleased that I could have been a part of it.”
Connie Page started quilting after being inspired by what she saw one Labor Day weekend at the festival in Northfield:
“I can remember going, years ago, my husband and I, on Labor Day were taking a ride on his motorcycle. We ended up in Northfield. [Vermont.] We stopped because there were things going on for Labor Day. They were having something called a quilt show. I didn’t know anything about quilt shows then. I went in to the old Armory there. There were some old ones, beautiful ones. Then I went across the street and in the stores across the street. They were fabulous, I thought. I didn’t know people could do that with fabric. That was the start.”
Lucile Leister also shared her memories of the early years of the quilt show in Northfield:
“I don’t know exactly, I don’t remember exactly how I got started, but it was definitely with Richard Cleveland. Dick Cleveland and I were kind of–[laughs.] we got along very well. He was very interested in quilts. He didn’t make quilts himself, but as the same thing happened to me, he had some quilts from his family, and he didn’t know how they were made, but he’d like to find out. He thought there were some other people that knew how to do this, and so I got kind of in cahoots with Dick Cleveland. At that point, they were having a Labor Day celebration in Northfield. [Vermont.] He started–the Vermont Quilt Festival started as a group of quilts in the basement of the church in Northfield. Well, we didn’t have very many wonderful quilts in those days, but we had quilts. That’s how it got started, it was very small but there was a group of people that were interested in getting it–getting this thing started. Well, it wasn’t very long before the basement of the church was not adequate, so there was–I don’t remember whether–there was a place downtown that we had it, but I think that was after we even got started at Norwich because we realized that Norwich University had the space that we could use. There were some people up there that were willing to get–to put in some work on it, too. So I was on the Board of the Quilt Festival for quite a number of years, until it began to get so big that I just thought ‘No, I guess I don’t really need to get into anything that big.’ I did teach a few years, but at the point where it just mushroomed–and it really did mushroom there at one point.”
Want to learn more? You can read more quilt stories on the Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories page on the Quilt Alliance website.