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Quilt and Fibre Arts Festival set to celebrate 20th anniversary in St. Jacobs

The annual Quilt and Fibre Arts Festival in St. Jacobs will celebrate two decades of craftsmanship next week with some new additions, most notably the appearance of Joan O’Malley, the woman who sewed the first Canadian flag with the maple leaf as we now know it.

This also marks the 50th year since the flag was created, making it a fitting tribute to have O’Malley on hand.

“It was a request made by Prime Minister Pearson and somehow she’s the daughter of somebody who would have been in his cabinet,” committee chair Lynn Wolf said. “She sewed the first flag. She’s going to be at the Mennonite church and also she’s going to have the sewing machine she sewed it with at the church.”

O’Malley will be at the St. Jacobs Mennonite Church from May 26-29 at various times during the day. She won’t be the only noteworthy person on hand though.

“On Tuesday, the honorable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, is coming to be with us. We’ve obviously not had anything like that happen before,” Wolf said.

Canada Post has issued a stamp in memory of the 50 years for the Canada flag, some of which O’Malley will sign.

Avid quilters can still expect all their old favourites too, from the trunk show to the quilt block challenge.

“The theme is called Canada: what it means to me,” Wolf said. “There are some really interesting blocks that came from that theme.”

Children from the daycare centre will also be participating this year, by making quilt blocks out of paper to be displayed at the Schoolhouse Theatre.

Involved with the festival since its inception, Wolf says it’s hard to believe they’ve already hit the 20-year mark.

“You just don’t realize how much time has gone by,” Wolf said. “With the quilt block challenge we started that the second year we were running. After a couple of years you start to think ‘wow, we’ve donated that quilt to the [New Hamburg] relief sale and collectively the moneys that have been made for the sale of things we’ve donated  ended up being thousands and thousands of dollars, that’s kind of nice.”

She explains the original idea was to have a festival to recognize the strong quilters in the area, and to involve the churches and the community.

New this year is an exhibit on the third floor on the Mill, with artist Kathy Langill who’s been quilting for 38 years. There will also be contemporary artists at the Silo Weavers and the Canadian Embroiderers’ Guild of Guelph and the Grand Guild of Fibre Artists will be back for another year at the Mill.

Quilting and fibre art classes will be running throughout the week at the church, and the merchant mall will be full of vendors.

“[Trunk show] feature artist is Elizabeth de Boer who’s actually from St. Jacobs and she’s got some really interesting work she’ll be talking about at her show,” Wolf said.

The quilt artist at the St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre is Judy Pearce, a well-known local artist, who’s done a lot of work for the New Hamburg Relief Sale.

While the event used to just draw in women, more and more men are finding themselves intrigued by the different exhibits.

“When we first started they’d sit out in their cars, now they come in,” Wolf said. “They’re quite interested in what’s going on in the quilt world. That’s certainly been a change for us. Contemporary was pretty edgy at the first. We’ve have some people make comments ‘well that’s not a quilt.’ They certainly had the perception a quilt was something that would go on the bedcover. Now it’s been very well received, the fibre art part of it, which is almost like painting with fabric.”

She says people are now more accepting of different kinds of fibre art, allowing the festival to expand its range. Despite heading the festival, Wolf is not an avid quilter. In fact, her first foray into quilting was a baby quilt for her grandson.

“I challenged myself thinking maybe I could make a crib quilt, and I did,” Wolf said. “They’re quite accepting as something as simple as my first venture at quilting. Some people would comment they could never esteem to the quilts they saw here. This hopefully encourages people to get involved.”

For a full list of events from May 26-30, visit www.stjacobs.com/quilt-fibre-festival.

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