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Mandie Burrell's fingers work the thread as she uses her Gammill quilting machine.
Burrell was floored when her quilt 'Simplicity' snagged a coveted AQS semifinalist spot.
Mandie Burrell of King George (using long-arm Gammill quilting machine) entered the American Quilter' Society^BENT^0027^EENT^s international competition.
BY EDIE GROSS
It was a last-minute decision for Mandie Burrell.
Though she'd been quilting for 12 years, she'd participated in only a few contests.
And though she'd earned several ribbons at state and local fairs, she didn't expect to get any recognition when she entered one of her creations in the American Quilter's Society's international competition.
So the King George County mother of three was stunned this summer to learn she was a semifinalist in a contest that drew hundreds of entries from 41 states and seven other countries.
Her quilt, along with 229 others, is on display this week at the AQS Quilt Show, a prestigious event in Des Moines, Iowa, that's expected to draw about 15,000 people.
"I am floored," said Burrell. "I never go to quilt shows. On a whim, I was, like, well, I'm just going to go ahead and send it in."
Though it took her eight months to piece together the queen-size quilt, Burrell called it "Simplicity" because of its traditional design. It's based on a pattern from 1860, she said.
The quilt earned second place at the 2009 Virginia State Fair and picked up a third-place ribbon at the 2010 Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair. That recognition would've been enough, she said. But in July, she learned that "Simplicity" was an AQS semifinalist, putting her in the running for $44,000 in prize money.
"I really, truly didn't expect anything from this quilt," she said. "Not that it's not good enough, but the competition is insane."
LOVE, SWEAT AND TEARS
Burrell, 36, grew up crocheting alongside her mother, but she didn't attempt quilting until about 12 years ago. At the time, she was working full time as a contractor at Dahlgren. One day, she picked up her kids at the baby sitter's house and noticed a beautiful quilt hanging over the woman's staircase railing.
"I said, 'Where did you get that?' She said, 'Oh, I made it,'" said Burrell, who was astonished. "I never knew quilting was an art, something you could do. I thought you just went to JCPenney and got a bed in a bag."
She started going to the sitter's house on Saturdays to learn the craft, but was frustrated early on, she said. She created a few quilts for her kids over the next few years, with images of Raggedy Ann and Scooby-Doo. But hand stitching each one seemed to take forever, she said.
In 2002, she used a sewing machine for the first time to piece together a quilt, "and that changed everything," she said.
Suddenly, a project that would have taken her a month took only a week.
She still loves the detail-oriented look that comes with hand stitching and hand applique, but using machines gives her the flexibility to pick up her pace if need be.
"I was so silly to think if you don't hand-piece it, you're not quilting," she said. "You're still putting your love and sweat and tears into it."
'A HUGE HONOR'
Burrell entered her first contest in the summer of 2009. Her reproduction of a Civil War soldier's cot quilt earned a third-place ribbon at the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair.
"You are completely addicted once you get that first ribbon," she said. "They're so big and pretty."
The award encouraged her to finish "Simplicity," a quilt she'd actually been thinking about sewing for several years. She finished the blanket, which features diamonds of red and green foliage on a white background, just in time for the state fair that fall. There, it earned second place in the applique category.
It won third place at the Fredericksburg fair the following summer--another quilt she entered took second. Quilts are allowed to compete for only two years before being retired, she said, so this month's AQS contest in Des Moines would be the last one "Simplicity" could enter.
Burrell figured she didn't have anything to lose, so in May, she filed the paperwork and sent AQS images of her creation, fully expecting to hear nothing back. Though she learned on Wednesday that she's not a finalist, Burrell was thrilled "Simplicity" did as well as it did.
"I didn't know what I was up against. I didn't even know what a jury was," said Burrell, referring to the judging panel that approved the semifinalists. "Just to get in is a huge honor. It's alongside these women or men who've been doing it for decades. I must be doing something right."
A REWARDING SKILL
While the ribbons and honors are nice, Burrell said the act of quilting is therapeutic all by itself.
"It's very comforting. It's calming," she said. "It puts me in a good place."
It also provides for some family bonding. Burrell's youngest child, Jackie, has taken to the art.
The 7-year-old entered her first quilt, which featured blue and green squares and a cat in the middle, in this year's Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair. She earned first place in the children's category.
"I was so proud," said Burrell. "I've yet to get a blue ribbon in this fair, but she gets it on her first try."
Burrell and a friend are co-leaders of King George County's 4-H Quilt Club, which brought home a blue ribbon from last year's state fair.
"I like seeing the kids doing it because it won't die out," she said. "A lot of people think it's something just your grandma did."
These days, Burrell has multiple projects going at once. She gets ideas and assistance from magazines and YouTube as well as from members of the King George Village Quilters guild.
"Any question you could possibly have, they can answer," she said.
In addition, she recently purchased a long-arm Gammill quilting machine, which takes up an entire room in her home. When she's not working on one of her own creations, the machine allows her to quickly stitch together the "quilt sandwich"--the decorative top, the batting and the back--for other quilters, which provides a means of income.
"Simplicity" won't be the last quilt she enters into a major competition, she said. Ultimately, she'd like to publish her own quilt designs and teach workshops.
"It could go a lot of places from here," she said. "I love it. It's very rewarding to see that you can make a work of art."
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
In addition, the American Sewing Guild, Northern Virginia Chapter usually meets at 10 a.m., the second Saturday of each month at Quilt and Sew, 3940 Plank Road in Fredericksburg. There is no October meeting. On Nov. 5, the meeting is from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., and on Dec. 3, it runs from 2 to 4. asgnova.orgQuilt and Sew is organizing a community service project to have volunteers create lap quilts and cough pillows for use at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center. Contact Claudia at 540/548-2377 for detailed instructions.
BY EDIE GROSS
In a back room of Spotsylvania's Marshall Center, Elaine Murphy painstakingly sews small white stitches across squares of red, white and blue.
Every now and then, she pauses, looks up from the quilt that spills across her lap and chats with one of the women seated near her.
There's no hurry. Murphy's been hand-stitching this quilt for the last 15 years.
"I put it up and forget about it. Then I take it out and work on it a little," she said, smiling. "I get distracted easily."
Distractions are welcome at the weekly meetings of the Wannabees quilting group. Members bring along their projects and trade tips and suggestions.
But they also spend plenty of time socializing and enjoying each other's company.
"This is kind of an everybody's welcome group," said Jane Schultz of Spotsylvania.
They meet each Tuesday at 9 a.m., and often go to lunch together several hours later.
"Sometimes there's three. Sometimes there's 13--or 30," said Sandy French.
Some have been stitching for decades. Others are new to the craft.
"We all do this with a sharp needle," said French of Spotsylvania. "I say it's not a quilt until you've got a drop of blood on it."
Though it was founded as a quilting group, members often bring other handiwork--cross stitch, embroidery and knitting--along as well.
Some are also members of area quilting guilds, where stitchers gather monthly to discuss projects, enjoy workshops and use their talents to benefit charities.
All enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the Wannabees.
"It's a very casual, friendly group, and we help each other," said Oneida Stephens of Fredericksburg.
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428