2010-10-14 / Front Page

Founders Headline Quilt Show

Spotlight on Whrelda Pittman, Helen Clusman, Kate Berkstresser and Iva Schmidt
By Jean Snyder STAFF WRITER

Helen Clusman, Kate Berkstresser and Whrelda Pittman are three of the Quilt Club’s founders whose work will be featured in this weekend’s quilt show. They each hold one of their quilts that will be on display at the Fulton Theatre during the Fall Folk Festival weekend. Left, Clusman shows her “Album Star” quilt. Each block contains the name of the person who made the block. Center, Kate Berkstresser will display her pink and blue “Lone Star” pieced quilt. Right, Whrelda Pittman holds her appliqued Wedding Quilt on which her late husband Harry put her initials. Helen Clusman, Kate Berkstresser and Whrelda Pittman are three of the Quilt Club’s founders whose work will be featured in this weekend’s quilt show. They each hold one of their quilts that will be on display at the Fulton Theatre during the Fall Folk Festival weekend. Left, Clusman shows her “Album Star” quilt. Each block contains the name of the person who made the block. Center, Kate Berkstresser will display her pink and blue “Lone Star” pieced quilt. Right, Whrelda Pittman holds her appliqued Wedding Quilt on which her late husband Harry put her initials. When this year’s Quilt Club Show opens on Friday, the annual Fall Folk Festival event will celebrate its 30th anniversary by featuring quilts made by four of the club’s founding members. But don’t let the fact that the show is only 30 years old fool you, because the four featured quilters have nearly 200 years of quilting experience among them. While they will each only have several quilts in the show, they also have hundreds of other quilts to show for their efforts – quilts that have been handed down generations, quilts that have gone to friends and to auction, and favorite quilts that still remain with the women.

The handiworks of Whrelda Pittman, Chambersburg; Kate Berkstresser, Hustontown; Helen Clusman, McConnellsburg; and Iva Schmidt, Fergus Falls, Minn., will be front and center this weekend from Friday through Sunday as the 30th annual quilt show will be held at the Fulton Theatre in McConnellsburg.

Three of the four women got together this week and talked with the “News” about the club they formed and about their love of handmade quilts and all the work that goes into creating them.

Whrelda credits Sybil Coble, the late Penn State Home Extension economist, with providing the impetus for starting the club. Whrelda, an avid lover of history, said, “I mentioned to Sybil that I thought we should do something to celebrate the 300th anniversary of William Penn’s land grant. From there, Sybil just took the idea and ran with it.” The end result was a quilt show in 1981 titled the Tricentennial Quilted Crafts Contest. Whrelda chaired that committee and designed the club’s logo. “It was such a disjointed effort back then,” she said. But today, according to club President Cindy Glessner, the club boasts nearly 35 members, a sign that the historic craft remains alive and well in Fulton County.

Every year since then, the Quilt Club has hosted an annual quilt show during the festival – a show that attracts quilters and those who appreciate quilting from far and wide. But despite all of the women’s work that has gone into making the club and its show a success, all are still quick to give credit to Coble for providing the enthusiasm and hard work to get it up and running.

Whrelda and Kate remember that it started with 12 or 13 quilters. “We tried to get at least one person from every township and there was a time when we had that,” Whrelda said.

As the three reminisced, they talked about some of the former members no longer with them. They spoke of Jean Keebaugh, Gladys Brown, Mildred Leo, Margie Shaw, Lena McClain and Olive Strait and when Kate talked about quilting in Hustontown, Whrelda was quick to say, “Those women from Hustontown, now they were some quilters.” As the club became organized, soon they were making patterns and giving them away for others to use.

Helen Clusman joined the club later after moving back to the county from Tacoma Park, Md. She said she began quilting at the age of 37 when she started working on one of her mother’s quilts. She is a highly decorated quilter, having earned Silver Thimble, People’s Choice and Best of Show awards through the years.

Kate began quilting in 1930 and Whrelda in 1960 and two quilts a year seems like the number most often estimated by the women. Failing eyesight has prevented Whrelda from continuing to quilt, but Helen and Kate still keep a quilt going constantly on the rack. Whrelda, who now resides at Menno Village, talks of observing the quilters at the village.

All of the women are dedicated hand quilters and have a disdain for machine quilting, but Whrelda admitted that she had recently voted for a machine quilt for an award at the village. When Kate admonished her for it, she said, “Well, I just liked it and thought it was so pretty.”

Among them they have a wealth of knowledge about quilting and especially about Pennsylvania quilts. Their conversation includes talk about Log Cabin, Lone Star, Star of Bethlehem patterns and about appliqued and patchwork quilts.

Quilting may date back as far as ancient Egypt, but the oldest existing example is a quilted linen carpet found in a Mongolian cave, and now kept at the Saint Petersburg department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Archaeology Section. In Pennsylvania, quilting likely dates back to the early 1700s and the first Amish settlements here.

All three women admit to not knowing how many quilts they have made, but agree that it is probably in excess of 100 each. For this weekend’s show, Whrelda will have seven quilts in the show, while Kate and Helen will have three or four each to show. They all hope that their friend, Iva, will also send some quilts to the show. A longtime Fulton County resident, Iva and her husband moved back to the Midwest several years ago.

This year’s quilt show will open on Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and will be open on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This year’s raffle quilt made by club members is a Flying Geese pattern and will be raffled off on Sunday at 4 p.m.

Return to top