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Edmonton 2006 to embrace quilting/fabric arts tradition


Mary, together with hundreds of other youth knotted quilts for Mennonite Central Committee at the 2003 Mennonite Church Canada assembly in St. Catharines, Ont. – file photo by Dan Dyck

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The logo and theme, God’s People Now! for Edmonton 2006 (text, 1 Peter 2:9-10). – designed by Lynette Wiebe

Thursday November 1, 2005
-by Jeff Enns

Winnipeg, Man. – The historic Mennonite quilting and fabric arts tradition will be showcased in a special exhibit at the Mennonite Church Canada assembly in Edmonton in 2006. An invitation to participate has already been sent to churches.

Organizers hope the process will engage creative fabric artists in a skill and art form that dates back centuries and is enjoying a comeback among younger generations – and raise funds for ministry along the way. Finished quilts, banners, and wall hangings will be sold at a public auction some time during the assembly week, with proceeds going to Mennonite Church Canada’s Christian Formation ministries.

Quilting has a rich heritage among the Mennonite faithful, at first as a way to combine small but nonetheless valuable pieces of fabric into useful garments or blankets. Later, it evolved into beautifully crafted pieces of functional art.

Irmgard Enns (Foothills Mennonite Church, Calgary) has been quilting for over 50 years. When she first picked up needle and thread, stitching was more than a recreational activity. She recalls a young woman’s quilting group called the “Ladies Aid” that would get together and sew quilts for Mennonite Central Committee. The quilts were shipped out to different countries to offer warmth and comfort for people in need. She concedes the quilts were not always aesthetically pleasing but they served a more important functional purpose and became a symbol of relief aid.

Enns recognizes the renewed interest in fabric arts by younger generations and the importance of sustaining the tradition. “It is an up and coming thing that young people are getting involved in. The quilts can be very artistic but it’s even more than that. It is an art form that expresses what we [Mennonites] are about and signifies where we came from.”

This enthusiasm for quilting and fabric arts shines through in Leila Olfert, a long time crafter from Wildwood Mennonite Church (Saskatoon), Olfert often finds herself consumed by her fabric projects. She considers the creation process both relaxing and stimulating; a time to meditate and rest her mind but also an opportunity to flex her creative muscles. Olfert says the exhibit and auction will give exposure to the textile arts.

Dave Bergen is executive secretary of Mennonite Church Canada Formation, and is inspired by the possibilities of combining a heritage art form with an opportunity to serve the church. “Quilting in the Mennonite tradition is a community-building activity. Often working together, quilters and fabric artists combine their love for God and a commitment to serve others in ways that nurture faith and extend the work of God to others in the world.”

Bergen adds that proceeds from the auction will help nurture the faith of new believers through projects like the translation of Anabaptist materials in the growing number of multi-cultural churches across the spectrum of Mennonite Church Canada. The goal, he says, is to “… inspire our brothers and sisters with resources for the Christian nurture of children and youth, and help develop visionary pastoral leadership.”

“It’s a good opportunity for people to contribute to the assembly who normally wouldn’t get a chance to participate,” says Kristina Dueck, a Canadian Mennonite University student. Dueck has been involved in the fabric arts for seven years under the tutelage of her mother. She views the event as a great way for people to use their gifts and help a worthy cause.

The submitted pieces will be on display at Edmonton 2006 and serve as an inspiration to those attending. Submissions that interpret the theme, God’s People Now! (theme text: 1 Peter 2:9-10) are especially welcome. Quilters and fabric artists of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to submit their work.

For more information or to register an intention to participate, visit Registrations can also be registered with Karen Peters at 1-866-888-6785 (local 204-888-6781), email