Quilter Laing ‘sews it up’ for the Pantry

The Pantry Day schedule:

• Pet Parade, Food Pantry, registration 9:30

• Cut Flower Sale, Quicke Mart on U.S. 211, Trinity Church Parking Lot and River District Arts, 10 a.m. until the flowers are gone.

• St. Peter’s Bake Sale, Quicke Mart, 10 to 2

• Gala Benefit Dinner, The Meadows, Washington home of John Fox and Beverly Sullivan, 6 to 9 p.m. Chefs Sylvie Rowand and Terri Lehman oversee the roasting of the pig, lamb and chicken. With condiments by Virginia Chutney and contributions by Rappahannock’s restaurants and wineries. Tickets $85. For reservations, visit rappahannockpantry.org or call 540-675-3445.

Borrowing a line from the pop star Madonna, Charlotte Laing is a “material girl . . . living in a material world.” Except her material is cotton print, broadcloth, velvet, brocade, batik, calico, denim and silk, and she creates quilted treasures from the pieces.

Her works of fabric art – along with others stitched by Rappahannock’s master quilters – will be displayed in the Old Washington School’s auditorium this Saturday (May 11) for Pantry Day in Rappahannock County. In addition, two of Charlotte’s gorgeous baby quilts will be raffled off to benefit the Food Pantry.

A self-described quilting addict, Charlotte generally has three quilts going at a time – “one on the frame, one in pieces and one in my head” – and it takes an average of three years before she proclaims a work “finished.” She alternates between fashioning her own designs and using traditional patterns, and her favorite, “at the moment,” is a quilt she calls Little House in the Snow. “It took me forever!”

And no wonder. Every one of the panels is a different scene in a different snowy setting. There are wreaths and candles in windows, candy canes on doors and snowmen, bunnies, fancy ladies, decorated trees, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and more in yards. Her husband Noel, the current president of the Food Pantry, loves the story of Noah’s Ark, so, of course, there’s an ark theme for one panel. She even goes way north for another with moose and bears playing in the snow.

The 78-year-old Amissville resident caught the quilting bug two decades ago when the Laing family moved to Rappahannock. Her good friend Katherine Riley persuaded her to join the county’s quilting group, and she’s been sewing ever since, with some 25 quilts (and counting) to her credit.

“It’s the beautiful fabrics. I just can’t resist them,” Charlotte explained. But she has finally said “enough” to fabric acquisition, adding that she no longer buys fabric except for backing. The scope and scale of her material collection has given her a new goal: “I’m trying to use up what I have before I die,” she joked. “And I’ll never make it!”

Charlotte Laing poses with one of her handmade quilts. Courtesy photo.
Charlotte Laing poses with one of her handmade quilts. Courtesy photo.

Quilting is a stitch in time. The earliest known quilting is a garment draped on the carved ivory figure of a pharaoh of the First Dynasty, dating back to 3400 B.C. Crusaders brought quilting to Europe in the 11th century in the quilted aketons worn under armor, and the colorful threads of this decorative and functional art form crossed the Atlantic with settlers to run through American history.

In colonial times, when women couldn’t own property, couldn’t vote and didn’t have much that was entirely theirs, they could voice their political opinions and ideas through their quilts. Many a Tory husband went to bed under a Whig rose quilt without a clue to the message in the bed covers.

The venerable pine tree quilt pattern was adopted for the liberty flags by the six ships that comprised Gen. George Washington’s little navy. When one of the ships was captured, the English had a good laugh at the idea of using a pine tree as a navy symbol. (But everyone knows who had the last laugh there!)

In 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette was in the United States for a month’s visit, the guest of honor at events honoring his contributions to a new nation’s battle for independence. The French general was peeling an orange at a banquet, cutting the rind away in quarters with the bottom of each section still attached, petal-like, to the fruit. An admirer asked if she could have the peel as a remembrance. She flattened it and copied the design for the quilt pattern known today as Lafayette’s Orange Peel.

Women in the Abolitionist Movement used quilts as signposts for the network that smuggled slaves to freedom. Quilts sewn of blue and white material in the distinctive pattern of Jacob’s Ladder were hung to signal sanctuary. Soon, that blue and white design became known as the Underground Railroad.

Quilts from the Midwestern states at the time of the great westward migration were often decorated with flowers and trees. On the barren plains, women from the east missed the greenery and colors of home, so they put those lost comforts in their quilts.

Other symbols – the pineapple for hospitality, the oak leaf for longevity, the tulip for love – add to the stories told by quilts.

The stories behind the collection of bright tapestries at the Washington School will be posted next to the quilts, courtesy of Ruthie Windsor Mann. The fabric art by Laing, Katherine Riley, Helen Williams, Lois Snead, Edie Caldwell, Frances Lawrence, Ora Ray and Janet Eastham includes butterfly, ring, fan, friendship and Appalachian Trail designs and quilts with decorations appliqued, embroidered and crocheted.

At the quilt show, Charlotte will be working on a fandango quilt, and Kathleen Hutchison will demonstrate bobbin and tatting lace. Other laces, as well as antique sewing tools, will also be displayed, as will design squares showing the different approaches to sewing a quilt panel.

The Quilt Show is open from 10 to 2 p.m. Admission is free; suggested donation for tickets for the raffle quilts is $1 for one, $5 for six, with all proceeds going to the Rappahannock Food Pantry.