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Fabric, fiber keep Paula Mathews' hands busy

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Photo by Pat Sunderland Paula Mathews' knitted socks are a top seller at the Holiday Craft Fair held annually at Bill Heddles Recreation Center. She uses a variety of fibers, including wool, bamboo and even corn.

An amazing variety of handcrafted articles are featured in the Holiday Craft Fair held annually at Bill Heddles Recreation Center. Holiday shoppers delight in Christmas decor, handbags, crocheted dishcloths, knitted socks and quilted items. The craft fair draws over 75 vendors, but amazingly you can find all those items, and more, at just one booth -- the one featuring the handicrafts of Paula Mathews.

Paula's urge to create stems from childhood, when she and her two older sisters made clothes for their dolls. Sewing remains a favorite pasttime, but Paula is just as adept with knitting and crochet needles. She learned to knit and crochet in 4-H, and over the years, she's passed on those skills to others. Many of her classes took place at Bill Heddles Recreation Center, where she was an aquatics instructor. She also taught knitting and crocheting at a couple of quilt stores in Cedaredge.

She continues to share tips and techniques, and pick up ideas from others, as a member of the Basket Case Quilt Guild. Sew days, demonstrations and quilting challenges provide inspiration, as well as the impetus to finish UFOs, or unfinished objects. At the beginning of the year, guild members were asked to write down a list of all their UFOs. Every time they've completed a project and brought it to share, their name has been entered in a drawing for $100. Having completed 15 of 16 UFOs, Paula has a good shot in the upcoming drawing. As for number 16, she said that one simply won't get done, "but that's okay."

Guild members also participate in a "block of the month" challenge, the goal being to complete one block a month, then assemble the 12 blocks into a completed quilt at the end of the year.

The ugly fabric project is equally challenging. Each guild member brings one yard of fabric, then exchanges it -- sight unseen -- with a fellow quilter. The goal is to incorporate that yard of fabric into a bag, placemats, table runners, whatever -- but the "ugly" fabric has to figure prominently into the finished item. Paula says the fabrics are not always ugly; sometimes the quilter just isn't sure what to do with that particular color or pattern.

Paula prides herself on using up scraps of fabric, donated skeins of yarn and unfinished quilt tops, some of which have been handed down through the generations to family members who have no idea what to do next. Paula honors the quilter's original intention as best she can, which can require handpiecing and handquilting, because she recognizes that quilts are much more than a warm covering; they are treasured mementoes.

Each of her children had a double wedding ring quilt that incorporates pieces of fabric from shirts, shorts and dresses Paula sewed for them when they were young. She also saved scraps of fabric from a prom dress and her wedding dress -- both made by her mother -- and incorporated them into a log cabin quilt along with fabric from the first 4-H blouse she ever made. A small piece of gray fabric came from her dad's shirt.

"When somebody gets married, they get a quilt," Paula said. "When my daughter's friends got pregnant, they got quilts." Quillows -- small quilts that fold into pillows -- made thoughtful graduation presents.

A quilt for husband Fay, a retired volunteer firefighter, showcases old T-shirts. A small quilt serves as a souvenir of a trip to Minnesota, where Paula purchased the kit. Discovering new quilt shops is always part of Paula's journeys.

Though Paula sells her handicrafts at the Holiday Craft Fair, she resists suggestions to expand to retail stores and other craft shows. She wants her hobbies to remain just that -- hobbies. "Still, I have to have an outlet to get rid of this stuff," so she rarely misses the Holiday Craft Fair.

This year's craft show takes place Saturday, Dec. 2, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition to handmade items from crafty folks like Paula, you'll find food, candles, clothing, jewelry and much more.

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