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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Crafters on campus: quilters guild a secret jewel



At first glance, one might not categorize Grinnell, Iowa, as a center of great art. Yet Grinnell is home to the Jewel Box Quilt Guild, one of the largest quilting guilds in central Iowa. The guild currently has 55 members and draws quilters from all around the area. Several of its members are current or retired staff of the College, including Betty Santema, Amy Brown and Jean Reavis, who all currently work in Burling Library.

While Santema, Brown and Reavis all have differing quilting experience, they all describe having become drawn to the craft due to its creative and meditative aspects.

“I enjoy all parts of it. I like choosing the fabric, I like designing, I like the actual sewing and I find it really therapeutic. Either by machine or by hand, it’s very Zen-like for me, it’s very calming,” Santema said.

All three women also believe that the guild plays a key role in keeping them engaged. Encompassing a range of different ages and skill levels, the guild has become a great place for new quilters to seek advice about their work and be inspired by the work of others.

“One thing I love about this guild is I feel like there were some years I could have been quilting, but I wasn’t, because the kids were younger … but I know that I can come in, and ask people, ‘I’m kind of puzzled about this,’ and you have people immediately answering, giving you really good advice,” Reavis said.

The guild meets every second Thursday of the month at St. Mary’s Community Center on Broad Street. Most meetings feature a program and a “show-and-tell” aspect, where the quilters are able to display and talk about their work.

“I came for the ‘show-and-tell’ at the end. That was the whole reason I was there. That’s what inspires you,” Brown said.

In addition to the “show-and-tell,” the quilters often have a group project that occupies the majority of the meeting. These projects differ in their substance, but they usually are used for a charitable cause. Recent projects have included making hundreds of pillowcases for local hospitals, blankets and bibs for expectant mothers and “fidget quilts” for Alzheimer’s patients.

“For people who have Alzheimer’s, they sometimes like to keep their hands busy, whether they are rolling something in their fingers of petting something. So you make a lap quilt … and it just has a variety of textures, whether it’s corduroy or something satiny … so whatever they’re gravitating towards they can feel that,” Reavis explained.

While all three agreed that the charity aspect was an important part of the guild, ultimately, they quilt for themselves and the joy of the creative process.

“It’s not fun for me if I have to please somebody else. Part of the joy for me is that it’s something I do just to please myself.  I just do it because this makes me happy,” Santema said.

The guild has its annual show every year in late August at the Iowa Transportation Museum on Spring Street, and encourages students and their families to stop by. However, if August is too far away, the group enjoys seeing students at their meetings either to view the quilts of display, learn more about the art or even to start quilts of their own.

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