DUBLIN, Va. — On July 18, the walls in a far corner of the Farris Building at the New River Valley Fairgrounds in Dublin, Va., were hung with 25 artisan quilts. Three women sat in chairs in front of the display, ignoring the commotion in the exhibit hall as other preparations for the New River Valley Fair took place.
These women had a serious job to do. They had to judge the entries in the New River Valley Fair Quilt Challenge, one of the many competitions offered at the fair, held here July 22-27.
The fair, celebrating its 60th year, has the theme “60 Years of Barn-Raising Fun.” Contestants in this year’s quilt challenge were charged with finding a way to carry out this theme in their creations.
The judges worked diligently as they studied the colorful entries and requirements for this rigorous competition, looking at the quilts and checking the rules again and again as they carefully studied each entry.
Ultimately, the judges chose the quilt of Pam Shanley of Radford, Va., as the winner.
The playing field had been leveled somewhat before the quilters started their work. Each contestant was provided with a packet of five cotton fabrics to be used in the quilt, which could have a minimum size of 24 by 24 inches and a maximum of 30 by 30 inches. At least 50 percent of the fabric used in the quilt had to be from the packet.
This fabric was furnished by the Quilting Treasures Fabric Co. and the packet is known as the Big Red Collection, fair officials said. The packets were assembled by Sew Biz of Radford, in Radford, Va., a sponsor of the challenge.
While the judges worked, Thelma Bonds and her friend and helper, Sandy Ferraraccio, talked about the challenge and how it come to be. Bond, a California native, and her late friend and business partner, came up with the idea when they first became involved in organizing events in the Farris Building for the annual fair.
Bond, who has been sewing since she was a child, explained that the quilters were free to use any embellishments that they wished but could not over-dye. She said the creations had to be either machine- or hand-quilted. No tying or tacking was allowed.
When asked why contestants entered the challenge, Ferraraccio answered.
“The challenge stretches you,” she said.
The women agreed that the fabric almost “tells” the quilter what to do. A person has to work with the fabric. No one wants to create a quilt that looks like everyone else’s.
“It gets your mind working to do something,” Bond said. “Otherwise, life would be pretty dull.”
“You hope that you will inspire everybody else,” Ferraraccio concluded.
In addition to the quilt challenge, which was judged prior to the opening of the fair, there is also an open competition of quilts used for warmth and for quilts that are hung on walls as art.
Making quilts has evolved from being something women had to do to keep their families warm, to creating a work of art in its own right, the women said.