Quilt Show Features Late Velma Leese
When thousands attend the Fall Folk Festival this weekend, many of them will wind up at the Fulton Theater enjoying the 32nd annual quilt show. Quilting is a tradition that runs deep in Fulton County, and although the Fulton County Quilt Club is only as old as its annual show, the years of experience of the nearly 35 members total in the hundreds.
Each year, the Quilt Club fea tures a quilter whose works are displayed, but not judged. This year’s featured quilter is the late Velma Leese. Velma passed away in June 2011 at the age of 80, but her only daughter, Judy Schriver, knows her history and knows it, perhaps, a little better after completing the bittersweet task of going through her mother’s things that had been entrusted to her to decide how best to preserve her mother’s legacy.
Velma began quilting at the age of 12, unless you count the tiny quilt she made at the age of 9 for one of her dolls. She started quilting with her mother and grandmother, but became a serious quilter when she needed quilts for her own eight growing children.
Flora Mellott of Needmore was a big influence on Velma’s quilting. They both belonged to a group called the “Ladies Aid” at their church, Pleasant Ridge Church of the Brethren. The group of ladies met in members’ homes, quilted, ate and socialized together.
Some of her older quilts included material from feed sacks and used clothing. The first “fancy” quilts she made were her early state quilts. They were hand embroidered state maps and birds. She made one of these for each of her children. Later quilt blocks were often painted freehand – with tubes of liquid embroidery paint – for state quilts, area churches and favorite Bible verses. Broken star, log cabin, Dresden plate and double wedding ring were among her pieced favorites. Her recent most favorite was the bargello design quilt.
In bargello quilting, long strips of fabric are sewn together along their long sides. Then the first and last strips are sewn together, forming a loop. The loop is laid flat on a table, and then cut vertically (in the opposite direction from how the strips were sewn together) to make many narrow loops. The quilter then opens the loops by pulling out the stitching between two pieces of fabric, making a long, flat strip. Finally, all the strips are sewn together. By opening the loops in between different pieces of fabric (for instance, between the first and second piece on one loop, then the second and third piece on the next loop), the artist can make the colors of the quilt appear to shift and wave.
Velma’s quilts were made for family members, donations and to sell. According to her daughter, she sold a couple of large complete quilts each year, but also sold several baby quilts. Special occasions such as marriage or college graduation usually were marked with a quilt from grandma. Some she made completely from start to finish; many were only quilted using other people’s quilt tops; and still others were baby quilts. Later she progressed to even more complex patterns, created not mainly for warmth but just to be pretty, such as the bargello design. “Mom kept a journal.” Judy said, “Mostly about her quilting, gardening, and prayers. She kept a running total of the number of quilts she did, who they went to, and if they were sold, the amount she got for each. Each year she completed about 40 quilts.”
Judy remembers that there was always a quilting frame set up somewhere in the house with a quilt in it. “I remember helping her to tie quilts when I was young. To get enough quilts for our family, she did not have time to quilt them but rather just tie them.”
Her quilts have won many awards over the years from the Fulton County Fair and in the quilt show during the Fulton Fall Folk Festival. In the past at the FFFF, she has won the Golden Thimble award and Mildred Leo Award for the best use of color. She also has in the past won the People’s Choice award.
Although she is not as avid a quilter as her mother, Judy “quilts a little.” While going through her mother’s things last summer, she went through the boxes and boxes (and suitcases – 93 suitcases) full of material, patterns, started quilts and cut-out pieces and found eight squares with a painted verse and painted picture on them. “I was thinking, will I find enough to make a quilt? Since I found eight, I figured that was a sign, so I matched each square up with material and material for the back and quilted all eight last winter. I gave them to my brothers this summer at a picnic. Most are going to get them framed.” So, yes, she “quilts a little,” quite enough to preserve her mother’s legacy of family and faith. She added, “I always encouraged Mom to put her name and date on her quilts, but she never did. That is something that I could pass on to others – put your information on the quilt so that others have it.”
Also in the house, she found approximately 80 completed pieced quilt tops that needed to be quilted. She gave some to the family, but sold many at the sale held last fall.
Velma Leese was an accomplished quilter, but in her life, she did so much more. This is how Judy describes her mother: “When we lost mom, we lost one of the best. She was such a hard worker. As a young wife, she drove a cattle truck and could beat about any man in throwing calves on the truck. She was always busy. She was also an avid hunter. Just a couple of years ago, she killed the largest buck she had ever killed and was so proud. She believed in working hard – daylight to dark. She was still doing field work the week before she died. But I think one of the best attributes she had was her true generosity – to her family, her friends, her church.”
Many others in the county are quick to remember her iris gardens. For about the last 15 years of her life, she had an iris garden that boasted more than 400 varieties and was the envy of gardeners far and wide. She sold the iris plants and if you went to the farm to buy them, it was most often Velma herself who came out to dig them up for you.
Velma was a lifelong resident of Fulton County and a lifelong member of Pleasant Ridge Church of the Brethren. She was married to the late Vernon Leese for 57 years and they raised eight children, seven sons and one daughter. The family later grew to include 17 grandchildren and currently 10 great-grandchildren.
In 2007 Velma fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting the American Quilters Museum in Paducah, Ky. “I talked her into flying, so it was really an adventure for her – her first flight. In addition to the museum, Paducah has many quilting shops that she thoroughly enjoyed visiting,” Judy added.
Among Velma’s quilts being shown this week are her Fulton County quilt, a Bible verses quilt, broken star, bargello, embroidered bird quilt, log cabin, peacock, and double wedding ring, spanning about 60 years of her quilting.
The Quilt Show & Contest is held in the Fulton Theatre, on N. Second Street, behind F&M Trust, in McConnellsburg. The show is free and open to the public. Quilt show hours are Friday 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.