Those 38 cartons turned out to contain about 3,000 yards of fabric. So, every Tuesday morning, for weeks, members of the guild have been meeting at Niven's Palo Alto home, cutting the fabric into 1-yard, half-yard and quarter-yard pieces, assembling them into packets then sorting them by color and era. Anything larger than 3 yards is kept intact, for use as backing material.
The myriad of colors and patterns range from feed sacks that could date back to the Depression to the teals and purples of the 1980s. Some have labels identifying their manufacturer, such as Cranston Print Works, or place of sale, Sprouse-Reitz.
The fabric will be offered for sale at $2 per yard at the Peninsula Quilters Guild's 20th quilt show in September (except for the feed sacks, which are collectibles).
And some will go into the baby quilts that guild members make each month for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.
Or possibly for the many quilts made for Shelter Network or for blind babies, said Marion McEwen, co-chair of the biennial quilt show and educational event chair for the guild and a resident of San Mateo.
For the blind babies, members choose tactile fabrics — velvet, satin, corduroy, lame or lace. For homeless people, members get together for a "tie-in" three or four times a year, McEwen said. There they bring quilt tops they've stitched at home, then "make a quilt sandwich with donated batting and backings," and finish the quilt by tying knots (rather than sewing), she said.
With up to 250 members, the guild produces more than 1,000 quilts each year, she added.
But perhaps a favorite charity is Packard's NICU.
"Every baby that goes through the NICU goes home with a quilt," said Palo Alto resident Martha Helseth, noting that she personally has created close to 200 over the years. Each one is a square of 24 to 45 inches and takes about six hours.
Since most serious quilters are working on more than one project at a time, often they'll incorporate leftover blocks from another project into the crib quilts, McEwen said. She once took a drapery sample, added a border and backing, and voila! a crib quilt.
When the crib quilts are delivered each month, the nurses come out to choose for their patients. One spotted a red, white and blue number that she had to have for her baby, whose father was deployed in Iraq.
"We're allowed to go in to NICU so we can experience the nurses getting excited about the quilts," Niven said, noting that some of the quilts are hung on the walls.
Most of the guild members also belong to bees, a group of eight to 10 from a common geographical region that rotate hosting meetings once a month. At the bee, members work on their individual projects.
Some bees are organized around themes: There's an appliqué bee, an art-quilt bee and an English paper-piecing bee, for example.
"It's a way to share information," Niven said.
So's the monthly guild meeting in San Mateo, which alternates between mornings and evenings and draws about 100 people.
And then there are the special projects, such as the holiday challenge, where members are given three or four disparate fabrics that don't obviously go together and given a set of rules (size, for example). Usually they're allowed to augment the odd bits with other pieces.
"People do all kinds of interesting things," Niven said. When given her three odd pieces, she created a "topsy-turvy" doll: Turn the dress inside out and upside down and there's another doll inside, wearing a completely different dress.
And then there's the project of preparing donated fabric for the fall sale. Those 38 cartons translated into more than 100 loads of laundry, before the fabric could be pressed, then cut.
Pat Meyer of Palo Alto and Barbara Gray of Los Altos spent a couple of hours on a Tuesday in June, winding the fabric into presentable squares.
Each member has a different path to the guild, with many beginning as sewers, some taught by relatives. Niven's mother showed her how to make a quilt when she was pregnant with her first child. Meyer turned to quilting in 2001 after a bout with breast cancer.
"This was on my list of things I wanted to do. ... It was a nice way to get better, to heal," she added.
Gray had been sewing since involvement in 4-H at age 9, but it was a class at the senior center that got her more interested in quilting. Now her specialty is quilted jackets. After her husband passed away, her "quilting friends were such good support," she said.
McEwen admitted to a guilty pleasure: She loves buying fabric.
"I realized I could cut it up and not use up the whole thing," she said. She had learned to appreciate fabric from her mother, who was an artist and taught her a lot about color theory.
To thank Woodside, members of the guild made him several quilts, including one incorporating blocks that his wife had started.
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What: Quilting by the Bay 2012
When: Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: College of San Mateo, Building 8, Gymnasium, 1700 W. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo
Cost: $8 for two-day event; $5 for children 12 and under; free parking
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