WALNUT CREEK -- Jill-Alexia Orr had always enjoyed sewing since the fourth grade, and an interest in using needle and thread only grew as she reached adulthood.

"I've always been an avid designer of many things," said Orr, who designed and made her own wedding dress.

When Orr joined the Guild of Quilters of Contra Costa County more than a year ago, she wanted to share quilting with her daughter, Grace Gonsalves.

"I just thought it would be fun to have something for us to do together," said Orr, a Walnut Creek resident.

Grace, whose first sewing project was a heart pillow, quickly moved on to making a traditional quilt for her fourth-grade California History project.

"It's a story quilt that tells how pioneers got to California," said Grace, 10, who is part of the guild's youth education project.

A year ago, as a brand new guild member and quilt maker, Grace won a second-place ribbon at the guild's annual quilt show.

"I picked some blocks I liked," Grace said. "Each block had a name and became part of the story."

Now Orr and her daughter share a passion for quilting that quilt show Chairwoman Barbara Shates relishes seeing -- a fresh, young breed of quilters to keep the tradition alive.

This year's quilt show, to take place April 5 and 6 at Centre Concord, will feature a variety of quilts from a diverse group of members of all ages, Shates said.

"This is our 41st year as a guild. We're one of the oldest guilds in the area," she said.

Shates, who grew up in Concord, loves making "story quilts" that harken back to her childhood playing in a creek behind her home. She said she's inspired by memories of childhood, animals and nature -- themes that find their way into her quilts. Currently, Shates is working on "In My Backyard," that features animals and flowers, to be ready for next year.

Orr, who tends to favor art quilts, said she credits Shates for introducing to her the Dear Jane quilt -- a replica of a Civil War quilt, circa 1863, that's become all the rage for quilters. It took Shates nearly a decade to complete her Dear Jane quilt.

"It became an obsession," said Shates, who now lives in Walnut Creek. "Nothing else was getting done so I set it aside, but came back to work on it with a vengeance."

"It was Barb's Dear Jane that got me started on one myself," Orr said. "I was getting a mini-lesson from her on needle turn appliqué and throughout the morning she mentioned, Dear Jane this, and Dear Jane that. I had no idea what she was talking about."

Orr said she was "instantly smitten" with the quilt as soon as she saw Shates' work.

"While hers has a more traditional 'Dear Jane' color template, I'm going wild with mine with very vibrant colorful fabrics," said Orr.

Shates is thrilled it has members like Orr and Grace.

"The guild needs to draw new members in," Shates said. "Kids today are so busy with sports and extracurricular activities. It's so important for the guild to promote the art of hand-quilting. I'm glad Jill has found something else to do with her daughter -- sharing this beautiful tradition of handwork."

Longtime members aim to welcome a new generation. Since the Old School House in Pleasant Hill closed in 2008, guild members have met regularly at the Contra Costa County Farm Bureau building on Clayton Road on Wednesdays to work on their projects including the opportunity quilt, one of the guild's projects and activities that raise funds for outreach programs as well as helps fund the rent to use the farm bureau building.

On a recent Wednesday morning, four longtime guild members were working on the opportunity quilt to be raffled off at next year's show. This group of women will be at the show this year, complete with the quilting frame, so that public can see a part of the quilting process.

"My reasons for joining are primarily social," said Pat DeRushia of Concord. "I've made some of the best friends I've ever had."

Marian Wohlfrom, a member since the 70s, said that working on the opportunity quilt gives her a sense she's contributing the community. She said she enjoys seeing all the different creations that come from pieces of fabric.

"With a quilt you start with a smooth, flat surface," said Wohlfrom, a Pleasant Hill resident. "Then you get to see much more depth and the quilt comes to life."

Ranny Frank of Walnut Creek said once while she was working on one of her own projects, she saw the pattern of the opportunity quilt for that year.

"It was a variation of a pattern that I had come across so that was the year I first participated," said Frank, who's been contributing to the opportunity quilt since then.

When Heide Dressler lived in Germany several years ago, she used to cut up pieces of fabric and sew them together to make kids' clothes.

"I didn't know it was quilting at the time," said Dressler, who used to work at the Cotton Patch, a sewing and quilting store in Lafayette. "Now, I'm introducing my grandchildren to quilting."

Guild of Quilters of Contra Costa County
  • WHEN: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 5; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. April 6
  • WHERE: Centre Concord, 5298 Clayton Road, Concord
  • INFORMATION: www.contracostaquiltguild.org