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Quilting event stitching together huge visitation for Digby in June

Debra Howard using a Gammill machine. Kawartha Quilting and Sewing is providing Gammill machines for participants to use at the quilting retreat.
Debra Howard of Quilts by the Bay in Brighton, Digby County. FILE PHOTO

June retreat bringing in about 200 visitors and the quilting world’s top star

Debra Howard’s quilting shop in Brighton, Digby County, is a feast not only for the eyes, but also for the heart.

Between the colours, the fabrics and the patterns, there’s a lot to take in.

It may trigger memories of the quilt your grandmother made using fabric taken from her old aprons or dresses.

It may trigger memories of the quilt you wrapped yourself up in on your bed when the temperature dipped a little too low.

It may trigger memories of a treasured family heirloom. Or of the quilt that was the perfect gift – to give or receive – to celebrate a wedding, a graduation, the birth of a child.

But the thing about quilts is while they are an old tradition, they are still very much a part of the present and of the future.

Howard has been making quilts for more than 30 years. She figures she makes about 20 a year.

And does she love it as much as when she first started? Actually, probably more so, she says.

She even left behind a paramedic job last fall to turn this into a full-time occupation.

“The demand is there,” she says. “It’s just so much more fun.”

And Howard wants to spread that fun.

For the second year in a row she has organized a quilting retreat to take place in Digby in which she is bringing in a guest speaker and instructor.

And not just anyone.

She is bringing in Jenny Doane.

“If you’re in the quilting world, she is the top gun. She does YouTube videos on quilts, but the way she explains it, and the audience that she has and the ideas that she has, she’s just that go-to person,” Howard says. “If you’re in the quilting world you know Jenny Doane.”

And for good reason. The face of the Missouri Star Quilt Company, Doane transformed the town in which she lives – Hamilton, with its population of about 1,500 residents – into a thriving quilting multi-million industry that employs hundreds of employees, churns out tens of thousands of orders each year and sees at least a dozen storefronts on the town’s Main Street each selling a specialized fabric.

And that’s just the tip of things.

It’s become an industry that generates several tens of millions of dollars each year for the local economy.

The town attracts visitors from around the globe each year. There is even a tourism retreat centre, not to mention the world’s biggest spool of thread (of course).

And Doane’s YouTube tutorials have been said to have been viewed more than 100 million times.

And she’s bringing all of her knowledge and passion and experience to Digby to share with others. From June 24 to June 29, Howard has organized a retreat that is seeing about 200 quilters coming to Digby from Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The event has filled up the Mountain Gap Lodge with spillover happening to other accommodations, Howard says.

It’ll be a big economic contributor to Digby and the surrounding area.

“There’s 200 people coming and they’re all going to stay here. They’re going to lodge here. There’s going to eat here. They’re going to shop here,” says Howard.

The workshops are pretty much all filled up, although as of last week there were still a few openings in one of the morning workshops in Digby and also the trunk show that will be happening at the Kings Theatre in Annapolis. People can contact Howard at 902-245-6343 to see if there are still openings.

Howard, meanwhile, is asked what she sees as the appeal to quilts.

“It’s just something that’s handmade. It’s just part of that person,” she says. “Years ago, they used fabrics that they had around so they meant more, probably, because it was Granny’s apron and this one’s dress.”

In her shop, Quilts by the Bay, located at civic number 8779 in Brighton, Howard has a “little bit of everything” when it comes to the variety she produces and sells. VISIT HER FACEBOOK PAGE.

And there is also deep meaning to some of her quilts.

“I take a lot of clothing of wives, or moms or dads that’s died and I transform them into quilts,” she says. As well, a big attraction to her stop is she sells Kaffe Fassett Fabric, which isn’t always easy to come by.

And even though quilting an age-old art, she notes how technology advancements have also helped to change the face of it too.

“Fabrics are becoming digitally printed so they’re so vibrant,” Howard says.

Howard is beyond excited about the retreat coming up in June and the chance for quilters to meet Jenny Doane in person.

“She’s amazing and really down to earth and approachable,” she says.

Howard, meanwhile, intends for these quilting retreats to be an annual event. She’s already thinking ahead to next year.

“I’m open to ideas,” she says.

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