Quilters share love of craft during annual Western Pennsylvania Shop Hop

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Sewing and quilting were daily activities for Kathy Albitz while she was growing up in Slickville, a rural community in Westmoreland County.

Albitz, 48, was a member of a 4-H club in which doing home ecomonics projects and attending county fairs were common activities.

Though Albitz left Slickville and lives in Scott, her love of quilting grew. She has made more than 100 quilts and takes classes at the Quilter's Depot in Castle Shannon.

“Quilting women are fantastic,” Albitz said. “They are friendly. You can walk into a class and know no one. You know everyone when you leave.”

Interest in the craft is growing across the region with more classes at quilting shops and enthusiastic response to events such as the annual Western Pennsylvania Shop Hop scheduled, June 19-22 at 10 quilt shops.

The event, held for the past dozen years, includes a few days for shoppers to visit each of the participating quilt shops in the area. Quilters often carpool and travel from Cranberry to shops in the Pittsburgh suburbs and beyond.

Susan Castelli, chapter services coordinator for the National Quilting Association, said the craft has grown “exponentially.”

“It is handed down from generation to generation,” said Castelli, 60, of Ebensburg, Cambria County. “We have the ability to purchase fabrics that were not available to us years ago and use them as an art form.

“Quilting is no longer what you remember — your grandmother sitting around a quilting frame with her buddies,” Castelli said. “It is a technologically creative endeavor.”

Debra Thompson, 58, of Hampton, past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Sewing Guild, said the nonprofit has about 260 members and has continued to grow.

“There is always a need to be creative, original and say you made it,” Thompson said.

Thompson said her daughters, Elizabeth Saraceno, 30, of Pine and Sara Thompson, 27, of the North Side enjoy sewing quilts and making home décor items.

“All ages are involved,” Thompson said.

Sharon Donahue, 63, of Beaver, who teaches beginning quilting, an 11-month class at Amy Baughman's Sew and Quilt on Route 19 in Cranberry, said her students include women from their 30s to 60s.

Donahue said older students find that quilting helps stimulate their brains.

“It helps with motor skills,” Donahue said. “And it's a social thing. Friendships get formed. You see camaraderies.”

Quilting has helped Linda McKee of Monongahela, Washington County, form friendships and strengthen family bonds.

McKee's sister, Ellen Nath of Eighty Four, Washington County, suggested about a decade ago that the two take a quilting class.

McKee reluctantly agreed.

“I didn't think quilting would be that interesting,” McKee said.

But McKee found that she enjoyed cutting pieces of fabric and putting them together.

Nath since has had two children and found she didn't have time for quilting. McKee continues the craft and is making quilts for her four sisters, brother, nieces and nephews.

McKee and a friend, Holly Fish of Sarver, Butler County, have attended the Shop Hop for the past decade.

Mary Beth Hartnett, owner of the Quilter's Corner on Route 88 in Finleyville, Washington County, said younger generations are helping drive the resurgence in quilting.

“Quilting is the only thing you do during the course of the day that lasts going forward,” said Hartnett, who started the Shop Hop. “You make your own statement. It lasts longer than the moment.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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