Palm Coast, FL – The popularity of quilting ebbs and flows but for some people it’s more than a trend. It’s a passion.

Rhonda Stapleford has been quilting since the 1990’s, inspired by a friend who showed her how to do it. Starting with a double and a twin quilt for her daughters as her first project, Rhonda was ‘totally hooked’, and the self-taught quilter has been honing and sharing her skills ever since.

As one of Palm Coast’s Parkview Church small groups, Stapleford leads the Parkview Church Quilt Ministry. Started in January 2013, with Rhonda at the helm the group has been providing education to women who want to learn more about the art of quilting, while giving back to the community.

Gathered inside her home in a bright and airy sewing room, the women talk shop, sharpening their skills and creating masterpieces.

“I just love it. I’m passionate about it. If I go on vacation, I’m chomping at the bit. I’m going through Pinterest with quilt envy,” said Stapleford, drawing knowing smiles from her fellow quilters.

“I’ve told these ladies they have pushed me to the point of bettering my own quilting.”

New In Town

As members of the group, Kathy Van Ravenswaay and Char Cunha are relatively new to Flagler County. Both arriving about four years ago, they wanted to get more involved while growing their interest in quilting as a hobby.

“I was looking on the list of different areas to volunteer and saw the quilt ministry. I thought that might be a good way to get to know some other ladies and do something meaningful, but I didn’t know how. I’ve sewn most of my life but not quilted. I talked to Rhonda and she said ‘we’ll teach you how’ and so I’m a new quilter,” said Van Ravenswaay proudly.

Her new skill kept her occupied during the pandemic, and created a new circle of friends.

“Everyone has been so supportive and it’s such good feeling.”

It’s become such a staple in her life, it even relocated Kathy and her husband from their bed while she worked on a particular project.

“I made a quilt that was queen sized. I was organizing everything and I’d made all of these squares. I had it ‘just so’ and wasn’t messing with it until I put them together, and so we had to go sleep in the guest room,” she said.

No matter the skill level, Stapleford has been a welcoming and patient teacher according to Char Cunha.

“I arrived from New Jersey having made one quilt for my daughter as a wedding gift,” she said, sharing her previous instructor had been a math teacher she called ‘the sergeant’.

“I can’t say enough about how much Rhonda has taught me. The patience she has had with me. I don’t have the passion at the level that she has it at yet, but I feel as if it’s growing. When I bring these projects home, and we make them for people who need them, recovering from surgery or whatever, my husband says, ‘please tell Rhonda I’m sick’,” she said jokingly.

For Cunha it has been a wonderful experience, and she considers her quilting circle to be like family.

Debi Woodall-Stevens has developed the same appreciation for the group after moving to Palm Coast two years ago from a town in Virginia where her church had a large presence in the community.

“The church we came from had a very large, very active quilt ministry,” shared Woodall-Stevens,

Never able to join the 10 am meetings while still working in Virginia, after retiring and coming across Parkview while church shopping, she knew she’d found her place.

“When we came here, we were specifically looking for a church that offered a quilt ministry. These ladies are so remarkable. They open up their hearts, their homes and it’s gratifying to know there are kindred spirits out here.”

Also part of the seven woman group, Robin Dupont understands the patience required when teaching a new skill. Stapleford has excelled as a teacher with the group by explaining the fundamentals – not just the how, but the why.

“I like to give of my time and talent as opposed to throwing money at something,” she said. “This was a perfect match. I have been a professional educator all my life and I don’t say this lightly – Rhonda is an excellent teacher.”

A 2020 survey funded by Premier Needle Arts found that 65 percent of the active quilters in the United States are retired women with many starting in their 40s, as is the case with Pat Adam.

Pat took home economics growing up and loved sewing, and as part of a large mom’s group in Kentucky, she dabbled in quilting. It wasn’t until retiring in 2016, that she discovered Parkview’s quilt ministry and went all in.

“I was a beginner and we’ve learned so much. How to do things, tricks to do things right, colors, fabrics. I’m just so thankful for our group,” she said.

Getting Down to Business

The women gather monthly in what would be considered a Quilting Bee for their meetings, discussing patterns, techniques and just enjoying each other’s company as they work. As part of their mission, the women craft a quilt a month to provide comfort to people in hospice, youth quilts and even overseas for missionaries.

Rhonda’s face lights up as she talks about seeing the quilts in the hands of those in need of emotional caring and support, and it was what led her to start the small group ministry.

“They had a project going on where they needed 30 quilts for a ministry going on in Cambodia. A girl who quilts kind of was the impetus to start, to coordinate, and this was a church-wide effort. They purchased fabric, people donated fabric and we had a pattern, and everybody took one home to do that could do it. We sent to Cambodia 30 quilts,” recalled Stapleford.

“We ended up four years later needing to do 30 more. Because at the time I had knee surgery and couldn’t really do that much, I just decided this was a good time to see if there was interest in a quilt group.”

In addition to overseas missions, the group quilts for local causes.

“Last August we gave 100 quilts, mostly children’s quilts, to the WARM Project (SMA). Individually we all donate in addition to the 100 quilts, blue jean tote bags. We have given to the Alpha Pregnancy Center, donating play mats for the children. We now are currently giving to AdventHealth Stuart F. Meyer Hospice House. We give them quilts. We try on a monthly basis but sometimes it’s every other month.”

From hospice to baby dedications the 100% cotton handmade quilts become treasured family heirlooms and sources of comfort for generations of families.

Stapleford is meticulous about the quality of the designs and uses fabrics from her own supply if needed. Generous, the community helps supplement the ministry’s needs with fabric donations, as well.

“I have sister in Sonoma who is part of a guild and she gets free fabric through the guild,” said Stapleford.  “She sends me fabric periodically, and she packs it full. As long as the fabric is there, the church and hospice provide the batting. The rest of it comes from us. My sister also has started providing us with quilt tops for hospice, for us to finish,” she said.

Gathering up a stack of more than a dozen last week, the ladies prepared to drop off their handiwork for hospice before starting on the next set.

“This is such an investment in time that when you make one, you want them to keep it, you want them to use it,” said Dupont.