by Suzanne Labry
Quilt Block Competition Spans Over 20 Years of Creativity
Since 1997, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) has been sponsoring a biennial quilt block contest designed to promote the state’s agricultural interests and diverse natural fiber industry. Each contest is centered around a theme originated in the TDA’s Marketing Division.
Fiber-related companies and associations, such as Hobbs Bonded Fibers, the Tandy Leather Factory, and the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, sometimes sponsor the contest. (Many may know that Texas is the leading producer of cotton in the United States, but the Lone Star State also ranks high in the production of wool, leather, cashmere, mohair, and alpaca.) Once the winners of the block contest have been chosen by a team of independent judges, assembled into a top, and quilted, the finished quilt historically has been unveiled at the State Fair of Texas, held annually in Dallas in September. It then becomes part of the TDA’s Quilt Collection and traveling natural fiber exhibit.
Themes through the years have included The Common Threads of Texas, which pays homage to agriculture by depicting the state’s farm and ranch life; Texas Blooming Floral, which celebrates the beauty and color of Texas plants; Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids, which focuses on Texas-grown fruits, vegetables and other Texas-produced food choices; Agriculture is Your Culture; Toast a Rising Star; which highlights the state’s wine and grape-growing industries; Legendary Texas Ranches; Texas Wildlife: Adventure Awaits, which depicts the state’s rich wildlife and related activities, such as hunting, fishing, and birdwatching; and Gifts of the Gulf, spotlighting the 360 miles of the state’s coastline.
The 2018 contest theme was Celebrate Agriculture – Sew Your Texas Roots, in conjunction with the TDA’s Family Land Heritage event, which honors those whose farms and ranches have remained in the same family for at least 100 years. For the first time in the program’s history, the finished 2018 quilt was announced at the Family Land Heritage Day at the State Capitol in Austin and the winning quilt block makers were honored.
The finished quilt was displayed in the Agricultural Museum inside the Capitol. The 2018 block winners were Lisa Hobson, Douglas, TX; Suzanne McGuire, Abilene, TX; Marianna Graves, Brownwood, TX; Dorothy Thompson, Refugio, TX; Tanya Murphy, Crosby, TX; Joni Harrel, Kingsville, TX; Maria Koteras, Houston, TX; Becky Miles, Willow City, TX; Joy Kelly, Granbury, TX; Kelly Geissler, Prosper, TX; Janell Walsh, Dallas, TX; Shelia Smith, Goldthwaite, TX; Melba Goode, Damon, TX; Lauranette Lewellen, Waco, TX; Lizette, Krieg, Douglas, TX.
Once a theme and rules of construction (e.g., block size; whether embellishment is allowed; whether designs must be original or an adaptation of a traditional pattern; whether blocks must be pieced, appliquéd or a combination of both techniques; whether hand or machine construction) have been decided upon, TDA prepares a limited number of packets of materials for participants to request on a first-come, first-served basis. Each packet contains a selection of Texas-produced natural fibers, six of which must be included in the finished block. Contestants can add only three additional fabrics to the provided assortment, and in 2018, they were asked that one of those be a special piece of cotton fabric that personally represented family, history, or heritage.
Until 2018, the winning blocks were pieced together into a quilt top designed by Texas quilter Terri Vogds
and quilted by a variety of volunteers, including quilt guilds and individuals. In 2018, TDA moved the process in-house, with TDA employee Pam Wozniak, an Environmental & Labor Relations Specialist in the Office of Rural Affairs, taking over those duties. Pam grew up around quilting and both her grandmother and mother made quilts, all by hand. “As a young person, I didn’t have time for that, but when my sister, who had a Bernina, convinced me that it was possible to piece and quilt by machine, I got hooked and I fell in love with it.”
When Pam was tapped to assemble the 2018 blocks into the final top, her main goal was to do it in such a way that the individual block makers would be honored. “At the Family Land Heritage event, the best thing for me was seeing the smiles and pride of the women whose blocks had been chosen,” she says. “That made all the work worthwhile for me!”
The next quilt block contest will be scheduled prior to 2020. For more information, see the Texas Department of Agriculture website.
The winners of the 2018 Texas Department of Agriculture Quilt Block Contest pose at the State Capitol with Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller.
The 2018 contest theme was Celebrate Agriculture – Sew Your Texas Roots, in conjunction with the TDA’s Family Land Heritage event, which honors those whose farms and ranches have remained in the same family for at least 100 years.