Quilting students stitch memories, community
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Debbie Cyr carefully pulled a piece of red thread through the red-and-white-patched quilt as she showed students in her afternoon quilting class at the Presque Isle Middle School’s Skyway Learning Center on Wednesday, March 7, how to create works of art with hand quilting, a technique that does not require a sewing machine.
“You take your thread and cut off just a little bit so that it can go the right way,” Cyr explained, as she demonstrated each action. “You want to keep your stitches small so that they come out nice and even. Sometimes it’s best to use a practice quilt until you get more used to the technique.”
Cyr’s four students watched intently as she finished one of many patches on the already large quilt. Some were making quilts by hand while others created smaller projects using sewing machines. They worked while they chatted and sought advice.
Though Cyr has only taught basic and intermediate sewing and quilting classes since 2016, her knowledge and love of quilting has been passed down through many generations of her family. She first learned to quilt at age 11 from her grandmother, but kept more to crocheting and embroidery. She didn’t actively begin quilting until after her children were born and she bought her first electronic sewing machine.
Quilting and sewing were two regular pastimes for Cyr throughout her career in retail and she often attended the same courses that she now teaches through SAD 1’s Adult and Community Education program. When her former instructor left the position in 2016, Cyr knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to teach a subject she loves at a program that means everything to her.
“I earned my high school diploma through the adult education program and then I got my degree in education from the University of Maine at Presque Isle,” Cyr said. “Teaching is my passion and this job is the one that I’ve always wanted. For me it’s more pleasure than work.”
Her afternoon quilting class includes both beginning and intermediate students, who work at their own pace. Presque Isle resident Marie Sims has takens quilting courses for four years and noted the sense of community that she feels when working among other students who enjoy sharing their projects and learning from one another.
“I’ve lived all over the country and before I came to Aroostook County I had no idea that quilting was something that women still passed down through generations.” Sims said, working on a pillowcase with bright blue, green and yellow fabrics. “I’ve always wanted to get into arts and crafts, and now I try to make one queen-sized quilt per month, which takes me about a month to complete, and some pillowcases that usually take two or three hours each.”
Nancy Thompson, also of Presque Isle, began quilting in January 2017 after she retired, and opted for classes for better success. At the March 7 class she handcrafted a pink, blue and white-patched quilt for her 6-year-old great-granddaughter and said she has begun making more quilts as gifts for family members.
“I love being around the other girls. Sometimes I have trouble picking out colors and they’ll all help me with that. We like to show each other what we’re working on,” Thompson said. “My daughter wants me to make her a quilt, too, so she’ll probably be next.”
Cyr teaches the two-hour afternoon quilting class once a week during the fall and spring semesters for 10 weeks. She most enjoys spending time with students who share her passion for quilting and learning skills that they can pass down to their own families.
“We don’t sell our quilts, we give them as gifts, and we quilt more for the enjoyment than trying to add money value,” Cyr said. “It’s a great time for us to spend together and I think we all think of the class as a small community.”