By Michelle Mallette
The return of the Grand Forks Fall Fair over the Labour Day long weekend offers a welcome chance to appreciate the amazing creations of fabric and thread that are quilts. “Quilts are two things,” says Rae Salkeld, current member and past-president of Sunshine Quilters which is sponsoring and hosting the quilt show for the Fall Fair. “They are a masterpiece of workmanship and they are hugs; when we give them to people they are like hugs that last forever,”
Quilters from far and wide will descend upon the show to appreciate the techniques and beauty of the quilts, but even who don’t sew will be amazed by the variety and beauty of the art of quilts. “It’s an art show,” Salkeld explains. This is the first year the Sunshine Quilters are formally sponsoring the show, and they have added a new grand prize, a year’s membership valued at $45. “We’re hoping that we will inspire people to join the guild for some camaraderie and encouragement.”
Grand Forks boasts some amazing quilters, including Emilie Belak, who took her first lesson from Muriel Neale, nearly 40 years ago.
“I think we did Trip Around the World, and I made a Rail Fence. After three or four quilts, I started designing my own.”
Her first design was a mix of traditional piecing of flying geese with appliques of lifelike geese, all made of fabric. Appropriately, she called it “Canada Geese Metamorphosis,” and began entering it in quilt shows, where it quickly earned awards and the start of what soon became an international reputation.
With a background in science (she taught high school math in Grand Forks), experience working in stained glass, and a love of colour, Belak shifted quickly from traditional pieced quilts to custom-designed art quilts. “For the challenge, I think. I like taking apart and constructing,” she muses.
Soon after starting she entered her creations in the Grand Forks Fall Fair, then took to participating as a judge. She is considering entering this year and will definitely attend: “Always! I never miss it.”
And her advice for new quilters who have never exhibited? “Enter, enter, enter! The more quilts on display the better! You learn if you don’t win a ribbon,” she points out, adding “From every workshop I still learn. Three or four years later, maybe, an idea might pop up and get used.”
While Belak doesn’t spend as much time sewing and designing as she did in the past, she is still a quilter, drawing inspiration from her past travels. Her most recent submission to this year’s Quilt Canada juried show was Rooftops of Prague, from a photo she’d taken herself from her family home. “I like the chimneys that show like guards, all stood up and white.” The quilt didn’t win any awards, “but that’s okay. It’s an honour to be accepted,” she says, nothing only about 30% of submissions are put in the competition.
Stephanie Alcock will be entering some of her quilts in the Fall Fair and helping with the registration and display of entries as well, since she’s an active member of the Sunshine Quilters and on the board of directors. She began quilting about 15 years ago, and recalls entering the first quilt she’d ever made into the Grand Forks Fall Fair. She called it the “Oh Shit” quilt “because I made so many mistakes, that’s all I said when I was making it,” she laughs. “I honestly don’t remember how that quilt did, but I did win an aggregate trophy that year. I think it was a baking aggregate.”
Alcock encourages all quilters, and indeed all artists, bakers, gardeners, and makers of all types and ages to enter as much as they can. “It’s fun to see your stuff, and everyone else’s, to see what they are doing. I look at people’s entries all over the fair, and it inspires me.” For those who are nervous about exhibiting their creations, “we are our own worst critics … don’t judge your own work; if it’s going to be judged, let the judges do it. I think we’re too hard on ourselves.” Plus, she adds, it’s fun to see your own work displayed among so many others. And the quilts themselves are an attraction for fairgoers, even those who don’t sew, who can appreciate the quilt as an art form.
Gayle Hunt is another experienced quilter with a passion for the traditional scrap quilt. She began entering her quilts after experiencing the joy of showing in a guild show, as a member of the Moody Quilters at Christina Lake. “People love to look at quilts, the colour choices. Your personality comes through,” plus it’s a chance to consider new techniques or ways of using colour or patterns. Hunt is a passionate sewer, and always has projects on the go, including a stack of quilt tops she’s hoping to finish, “one day.” Her sewing machine is a Singer Featherweight, prized by sewists who appreciate its precise and straight stitch. “I bet this has made over 50 quilts; it’s all I use.”
Like Belak and Alcock, Hunt encourages exhibitors to put their work forward. And while Hunt hasn’t decided what she’ll enter, it will be in several categories, including quilting and paper craft. “I like the idea of people seeing them,” she smiles. “The people who come and see all the arts and crafts, and vegetables and flowers. There’s so much to see. For people from outside the area to come and see what this little community can do, I think we’re incredible!”
The 2022 Exhibitor Handbook lists all the categories and explains how to enter. Handbooks are available at Nick’s Feedway, Rilkoff’s, Save-on Foods and the Grand Forks & District Public Library, at Huckleberry Market and Durand’s Nursery at Christina Lake, and online at https://grandforksfallfair.ca/. The Fair itself is Sept. 3-4. Admission is $5-$10 for a day, with weekend passes and family discounts also available.