Trillium Quilt Guild Turns 25

A hobby evolves into an art form

Trillium Quilt Guild has been stitching away for 25 years, and according to Gwen Mitsche, the guild’s 25th-anniversary committee chair, members can make only so many quilts as gifts for friends and family members before they’re politely asked to slow down.

“Little by little, people say, ‘We’ve had enough quilts,’” Mitsche said with a laugh.

Quilt photo by Rachel Lukas.

That’s one reason Trillium started making quilts for nonprofit organizations up and down the peninsula. Its members have sewn quilts for elders in the Neighbor to Neighbor program, domestic-abuse survivors through HELP of Door County and low-income families whose homes were built through Habitat for Humanity. They’ve stocked Door County ambulances with blankets to comfort children who are making emergency hospital trips and given fabric scraps to the Wisconsin Humane Society Door County Campus, which uses the pieces to stuff pillows for cats. And they’ve sent their work well beyond the county, too, by donating quilts to victims of Hurricane Sandy and to veterans in the Quilts of Valor project.

“We have tried to not just be a group of ladies – and gentlemen – that keeps to ourselves and just does quilt shows,” Mitsche said.

Quilt photo by Rachel Lukas.

Getting the Guild Together

Trillium Quilt Guild grew out of a quilting class at The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay. Noticing participants’ interest in the subject, the instructor, Judy Turner, decided to start up a guild. 

At first, it comprised only four people who gathered in the meeting room at The Meadows, the independent-living unit of Scandia Village in Sister Bay. As the guild’s membership increased over the years, the group outgrew that room and moved to the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove fire station. There, they meet twice monthly to learn new quilting styles, collaborate on projects, show their work and share tips with one another.

Quilt photo by Rachel Lukas.

The guild now has 85 registered members, and those onetime Clearing students now have students of their own: They have taught classes at Gibraltar Elementary and at Peninsula School of Art, where middle-schoolers learn about different areas of the world through quilts. 

That’s one of the most intriguing aspects of quilting, according to Misty Witt, a newer guild member. Making quilts isn’t just about learning sewing techniques; it’s also about learning where those techniques came from and how quilts have been used historically.

“The learning and the camaraderie – that’s why I enjoy it,” Witt said. 

That camaraderie is why many quilters joined the group, according to guild president Fran Eickenberg. Like many other members, she joined the group as a way to meet people and improve her skills after moving to Door County to retire.

“You can just talk with anyone who’s sitting at your table,” Eickenberg said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and sharing of information.”

Quilt photo by Rachel Lukas.

A Craft That Lasts

Guild members are well aware that quilting is a hobby practiced mostly by older generations, but as they watch new trends emerge – from the rise of art quilts to the new use of unconventional fabrics such as SCOBY leather – they’re confident that the craft won’t be dying out anytime soon. Instead, Witt said, it’s changing with the times, just like any other craft.

“Quilting has evolved from your grandmother’s hobby to an art form,” she said.

And young people are the ones who are spearheading many of these new techniques, Mitsche said, so although quilters tend to be older, that doesn’t mean younger people aren’t interested in the craft. She thinks the age demographic is more of an indication of how time consuming the hobby is. 

Quilt photo by Rachel Lukas.

“We’ve had quite a few younger members,” Mitsche said. “Sometimes they come and they go because they don’t have time in their lives – they’re raising kids or they work. But we’re there for when they’re ready to come back.” 

Trillium Quilt Guild typically meets twice monthly on the second and fourth Thursdays, 10 am – 12 pm, at the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove fire station, 2258 Mill Road in Sister Bay. Find a full schedule on the events calendar at

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