Manitoulin’s sewing and stitching scene stages stunning fall shows

Monumental Quilt of Belonging comes to Manitowaning

MANITOULIN—Manitoulin Island is home to several quilting groups, large and small, and their shows this fall provide excellent opportunities to view their prodigious output, be inspired and learn more about the craft.

The Island Quilters Guild is the largest of the Island’s quilting groups, with 60 members that include permanent and summer residents; they meet in Mindemoya from September to June and display their work in the Hawberry Quilt Show every three years. Kathrine Grant, who is on the executive, came to the Island “for good” in 2011 and loves “the creativity, the Zen activity” of quilting with the Guild. “It’s about conversation, laughs and good baking,” she jokes, adding, “It’s a great way to get through the winter!” While lighthearted banter may fill their meetings, the group is serious about also making quilts that are donated to charities for fundraising purposes and to victims of house fires. Newcomers are welcome and will find someone willing to mentor them to get started; new techniques are taught in each session and ideas and “tips and tricks” shared.

This year, the Guild has realized a very ambitious project for their 2014 Hawberry Quilt Show. “When Myra Tallman was president of the Guild,” says Ms. Grant, “she suggested we bring in the Quilt of Belonging.” The visually stunning, monumental quilt at 120 feet long and 8.5 feet high was conceived by Ottawa artist Esther Bryan and is the largest collaborative work of textile ever created on a national scale. Participants from across Canada contributed its 263 handmade blocks representing 71 aboriginal groups and 192 immigrant nationalities found in Canada and include materials such as abalone shells, porcupine quills, amber from Lithuania, bobbin lace, a brooch from Poland, smoked caribou hide, English wool, kente cloth from Ghana, sealskin, 200-year-old German linen and worry dolls from Guatemala.

Two blocks were made by local participants from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve. Shirley Pitawanakwat created the block representing the Odawa and Marlene Shawanda, the Ojibwe. For the history and block-by-block descriptions of the Quilt of Belonging, see

Esther Bryan began the Quilt of Belonging in the fall of 1998 to illustrate “that everyone has a story to tell, each culture has a unique beauty and that the experiences and values of our past inform who we are today,” writes the artist. “In this textile mosaic, each person can experience a sense of belonging and find a place in the overall design—there is a place for all.”

Ms. Bryan adds that “the Quilt has been shown in over 30 exhibits so far—the highest attendances have been at the CNE in Toronto, in Houston, Texas, and feature exhibits like the Vancouver Winter Olympics.”

The artwork has attracted a lot of attention over the last 10 years, including “20,000 people in Grand Rapids, Michigan” recently. The logistics to exhibit the Quilt of Belonging are extensive, and the cost of transportation alone can be daunting for a small community. But Kathrine Grant, coordinator of the tour for the Island Quilters Guild, persevered and found a willing collaborator in Debajehmujig Theatre Group, and Debaj’s Josh Peltier, who is co-coordinator. Debajehmujig’s Creation Centre in Manitowaning will stage the Quilt in the dramatic theatre space, and has provided backing to cover transportation costs.

Esther Bryan says “the Quilt is housed with a company that has donated the space to store the Quilt in their secure, climate-controlled facility. When we receive a request to exhibit the Quilt, we work with the host to determine the feasibility of the space and costs. As we are a non-profit, registered charity, the host venue pays for shipping and related costs, but we try to keep these as low as we can.”

As to the Quilt coming to Manitowaning, Ms. Bryan is excited: “In our travels, we have tried hard not to determine the value of the exhibit by the size of the venue or the audience. With our mission of a place for all, we have learned that a showing of the Quilt in a church hall in the Arctic can be just as important as our exhibit at the G20 Summit in Toronto. Certainly what has impressed me about this exhibit is the passion and heart of the organizers. Though they are a smaller group than most of our hosts, with limited resources, they simply would not give up in their determination to bring the Quilt to Manitoulin.”

The Hawberry Quilt Show will also display some 100 items crafted by Guild members throughout the Creation Centre, affording the public an opportunity to explore not only the theatre and gallery but other areas of the impressive facility; there will be a boutique with “clothing, large 3-D flowers, purses and other items” for sale.

The Island Quilters Guild and Debajehmujig Storytellers co-present the Hawberry Quilt Show 2014, ‘Every Quilt Tells a Story,’ featuring the Quilt of Belonging this Saturday, September 13 until Wednesday, September 17. Saturdays from 10am to 5 pm; Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm; Mondays from 10 am to 4 pm; Tuesdays from 10 am to 8 pm and Wednesdays from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is $5. Debajehmujig Creation Centre, 43 Queen St., Manitowaning; tel: 705-859-1820 or

Evelyn Nelson, a member of the Island Quilters’ Guild, has organized a concurrent exhibition of 40 to 50 quilts at the Elizabeth Bay United Church, near Evansville, at 466 Morden-Noakes Road.

Inspired by the 2013 Neustadt Ontario Fibre Arts Festival where quilts were exhibited in local churches, Ms Nelson will drape the quilt collection over the pews in this beautiful old limestone and fieldstone building dating from 1914; in addition to accommodating Sunday worshippers, pews make perfect quilt displays!

The ‘Best Loved Quilts of Western Manitoulin’ were drawn from a pool of a wide variety of quilts of the United Church Women of the West End and will be displayed Friday to Sunday, September 12-14 from 10 am to 4 pm. On Sunday, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm there will be a service officiated by the Rev. Janice Frame, who will incorporate the art of quilting into her sermon.

Fan your fibre fever!

‘A Conversation with my Loom,’ recent works of woven images and art to wear by Dianne Kennedy Cruttenden. Opening day is Sunday, September 14, 1 to 4 pm, with artist in attendance to end-November. Gore Bay Museum, 12 Dawson St. Tel: 705-282-2040.

Fibre art by Lynda Noe and acrylics by Jack Whyte at the Harbour Centre gallery, 40 Water Street, Gore Bay, until September 22. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am until 4 pm. Lynda Noe’s Harbour Centre fibre art studio, Scissors and Silk, is also open to visitors.

Intro to Weaving Workshop for Seniors at NEMI Library, Little Current; learn to weave or refresh your skills. Yarns, looms, and weaving tools provided or bring your own yarns. September 12, 15 and 19 from 9 am to 12 noon. Workshop is all three mornings. Free for seniors, six people maximum, pre-registration required: call 705-368-2444. For course information contact Heather Thoma at 705-368-0460 or email

While driving (or bicycling) in Manitoulin’s scenic fall splendour to all the quilt and fibre art shows, tour colourful quilt-blocks on barns and other structures Island-wide. New blocks have gone up recently in Silver Water, Elizabeth Bay and Meldrum Bay. For a map, visit:

by Isobel Harry