To most, a quilt is a source of warmth and comfort.

For members of the Great South Bay Quilters Guild based in East Islip, quilts are so much more: they’re outlets for creative expression that allow the quilters to tell a piece of their personal and local stories.

They’re a tactile way to celebrate Americana and the art of handcraft — a pastime that’s been been trending upward with the progression of the artisan movement on Long Island and elsewhere.

“There’s so much that goes into quilting that people don’t realize,” said Claire Noto, the group’s president we interviewed this Saturday in Sayville.

To her left, Carol Kollmer of Bohemia, the quilter’s vice president, nodded in agreement, looking up from her work in progress.

“Each square or triangle has to be mapped and sewn, using techniques from machine embroidery to hand-painting to applique application,” said Noto, who lives in Central Islip.

The group’s work is currently on display as part of  the “Creating Art with Fabric: Traditional to Modern,” exhibit at the Bay Area Friends of the Fine Arts main gallery on 47 Gillette Avenue in Sayville. (More photos below.)

The show runs from this past weekend through Saturday, Oct. 29, and Sunday, Oct. 23.

Several pieces in the exhibit show mastery of all those skills Noto touched on, from gorgeous, detailed floral-patterned embroidery in rich colors to painstakingly detailed brushwork that brings deep dimension to a piscine-themed quilt’s local fish.

Once these labor-intensive patches are completed and connected, a layer of batting for warmth is inserted between the decorative piecing and the solid fabric quilt foundation. It’s during this final stage that stitching patterns like waves, curves, swirls and more are introduced for a final product that is as functional as it is beautiful.

Although for many of the guild’s 60 members the skills involved were inherited through their family’s traditions, a good lot of them learn quilting later in life.

In fact, amateur members are more than welcome—they are encouraged, learning tips and techniques from more established members during their monthly meetings at the Joyce Fitzpatrick Center at Brookwood Hall at 50 Irish Lane in East Islip.

The meetings are held on the fourth Wednesday of each month from September through June. These 7 p.m. gatherings begin with news updates in the form of lectures, tutorials, and trunk shows before a break for coffee and cake and a show-and-tell to share progress on members’ latest projects.

Not only can newer members learn from the more experienced quilters at each meeting, they also get a chance to learn among them in fully instructed workshops, which occur three to four times a year.

“It’s very therapeutic,” Noto said. “And it’s easy to get excited about. When you walk into a quilting store today, the displays are like an explosion of color!” Her eyes lit up just thinking about the rich textiles available for the guild’s next series of projects.

For this non-profit organization, the projects are always for charitable causes in the community. For instance, the members will often quilt for veterans, hospitals, hospice patients and babies, choosing their focus for the September to June crafting season ahead of time.

This month, the South Bay Quilters have partnered with Meals on Wheels, and will be providing cheery placemats to accompany their Thanksgiving-time deliveries.

Supplies and materials are donated or paid for by individual members of the self-funded group, but dues remain low at $25 per year for membership. Included in that membership fee are the workshops, monthly meetings where tips and techniques are shared amongst members, and access to fun raffles that are drawn at the end of each meeting, around 9 p.m.

It’s obvious that the spirit of community is strong within this guild, and made even clearer with the coastal and personal focuses of the quilt designs on display in Sayville until Oct. 29.

But even more than that, a visit to this exhibit is a lovely way to reclaim a piece of Americana in a world that seems to be moving too fast of late — and remember the value and art in old-fashioned traditions.


See “Creating Art with Fabric: Traditional to Modern” at the B.A.F.F.A. main gallery at 47 Gillette Avenue in Sayville either Saturday, Oct. 29, or Sunday, Oct. 30.

Guild representatives will be on hand during exhibit hours of noon to 4 PM, and welcome inquiries for membership. Street parking is ample; please use the side door to enter the gallery.

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Claire Noto (L) and Carol Kollmer in Sayville this past Saturday. (Photos by Su-Jit Lin)

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