Roland Park's Quilt: Patches Of The Past

August 04, 1991|By Lynn Williams

When the Roland Park Centennial Quilt made its debut at the neighborhood's birthday festivities, the quilt's creators lingered to listen to the public's comments. Amid the oohs and aahs and murmurs of approval was a remark that Susan Pfaff cherishes.

"This one woman came over and said, 'This is so Roland Park,' " she remembers.

Ms. Pfaff, one of three women who designed and created the quilt, might laugh, but the unnamed admirer was absolutely right. While Roland Parkers may consider themselves somewhat eccentric individualists, there is an understated, determinedly old-fashioned character to this leafy country-village-in-the-city -- a character that is perfectly in keeping with the gently communal craft of quilting.

And not only that, but Roland Park itself is depicted right there in the quilt. The overlapping shingles of its roofs, the elegant arches of fanlights and side- See QUILT, 4H, Col. 3QUILT, from 1Hlights, the rolling curve of its hilly streets and the colors of aged slate and brick are all part of the "fabric," so to speak, of the handmade coverlet.

Designing, drafting, hand-piecing and intricately hand-stitching the quilt was a two-year project for Ms. Pfaff and two Roland Park friends, Jeannette Festa and Lynn Rausch. All are experienced quilters who have stitched together, on and off, since their meeting more than a decade ago.

"We all had small children," Ms. Festa explains. "We first got together for a play group, and then realized we shared a common interest, quilting."

Over the years, the women would get together to quilt and talk; group projects included baby quilts for other young mothers and "hand quilts" featuring the handprints and signatures of their childrens' grade school classmates.

As the children grew and work intervened, the women found less and less time for their quilting club, but kept up both their skills and their friendships. And a few years ago, when their neighbors began to discuss the coming Roland Park centennial, they knew that a quilt would be the perfect way to honor their neighborhood -- as well as to raise funds for community projects.

"In that first brainstorming session, we knew we didn't want to do a busy little sampler quilt with little scenes," Ms. Festa says. "They take an enormous amount of skill, but the ultimate effect can end up being very corny. We wanted a strong graphic design, probably with a center medallion."

In addition to quilting skill, each of the partners brought her specific tastes and talents to the project. Ms. Festa, an admirer ,, of Amish quilts, prefers to work in solid-color fabrics, and likes deep, dramatic tones rather than pretty-pretty pastels. Ms. Rausch has a modern design sensibility and a well-developed eye for color. And Ms. Pfaff, Ms. Festa says, "has the drafting skill of a brain surgeon."

The women's central "brainstorm" was to work the architectural heritage of Roland Park into the design of the quilt.

"Jeannette talked, and Lynn thought about the colors and I sat and drew," Ms. Pfaff says.

The design they came up with was abstract and contemporary and anything but corny. The central medallion, which is repeated at the corners, is a stylized curtained window. An undulating border and curving shapes recalling "eyebrow" windows offset straight lines and sharp angles suggestive of wainscoting and peaked roofs. They also chose mossy greens and slate blues to capture the gentle palette of neighborhood greenery and tastefully weathered paint, with lots of white and a touch of salmon for contrast.

At a distance the effect is unfussily modern. But look close, and you'll see a wealth of ornate Victoriana picked out in subtle white hand-stitching. This was the result of lots of trips through the neighborhood, cameras in hand, photographing the decorative details that would be stitched into the textile tribute.

"We also took to sketching when we were driving," Ms. Festa adds.

"I was on the way to McDonald's, and I found this wonderful door!" says Ms. Pfaff, laughing.

When the production of the quilt began, the original designers were joined by three additional neighborhood quilters, Karen Meyers, Nancy Wright and Betsy Neale, for the piecing process. Ms. Rausch came up with the idea of numbering sections of the quilt and putting together individual plastic bags of fabric pieces for each section. Each quilter was responsible for piecing together her section and returning it to Ms. Pfaff. When all the sections were done -- on schedule -- Ms. Pfaff, Ms. Rausch and Ms. Festa stitched them together to make the completed quilt-top, added the batting and stitched on the backing. A sewing machine was used to stitch the bias tape binding on the outside edges of the quilt; all the rest of the sewing was done by hand.

"Then," Susan Pfaff admits, "it sat for a while. Because we felt really smug. The piecing was all done and here the centennial was two years away!"

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