Quilters bring fabric to life

Terri Austin, president of Maricopa Quilt Divas, works in her Province studio. [Ian Roberds]

One can turn to various places in Maricopa to find accomplished quilters. The similarities, however, overshadow the differences in this passionate pursuit.

And while individual talents and dedication are at the forefront, the “team” aspect comes into play through clubs, camaraderie and special relationships.

“You build great friendships,” said Glennwilde resident Cynthia Horst, a quilter since the early 2000s who moved to Maricopa three years ago. “I met someone from Gilbert, and we were friends online for 10 years before I moved here.”

The Maricopa Quilt Divas have come together for more than a dozen years. The 20-or-so members haven’t let Zoom meetings since the start of the pandemic impact their ability to collaborate.

Rancho El Dorado resident Joyce Hollis, a past president of the club who started quilting in 2007, described a current project in which each member will work on a block with black and white fabric before colors are inserted and the quilt is sewn together for donation to a local charity. Groups often auction the quilts off as fundraisers.

“We might do one large one like that every other year,” she said.

While the limitation on in-person gathering has been difficult, Zoom has helped keep the group together, allowing those with health issues or in faraway locations to participate.

Terri Austin, current Divas president, noted another local club in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Quilts and two groups in the Province community that meet regularly. All share another similarity.

“I learn so much from fellow quilters,” said Austin, who lives in Province. “Everyone has a gift, an expertise. Talking to other quilters opens up other ways of fixing or finishing something. We do a lot of teaching in the Divas, people helping each other.”

Linda Arney specializes in baby quilts, many of which are donated to a pair of charities. While she benefits from her work — “I need to feel like I’m doing something that matters to somebody” — the ultimate goal is that recipients like the quilts as much as she enjoys making them.


One should not confuse quilting with “easy work.”

“In the Garden,” a colorful favorite of Austin’s, was entered in an international show. It included more than 3,700 pieces of fabric and took three years to craft. She works on multiple projects at once and has several rooms in her home dedicated to her calling.

“I love the challenge of it: Can you do it and can you do it well?” she said. After spending 40 years in the sometimes-dark land of Alaska, she said she “absolutely loves” the colors, and that a creation is “all up to your imagination.”

One of Horst’s favorites is “Comforts of Home.” It came from a pattern, but she personalized it to tell the story of her family. All hand-embroidered, one block, with more than 60 pieces of fabric, took as long as 10 hours to complete — with 150 hours or more dedicated to the full quilt.

Another one that hits close to home is “Paper Dolls,” a quilt dedicated to her two oldest daughters.

Cynthia Horst, who has been quilting for two decades, invested more than 150 hours on one of her favorite quilts. [Tom Schuman]
Like Austin, working on 8-10 projects at once (some taking months, others years) is not unusual for Horst. “I love picking colors, she said. “I’m especially drawn toward bright colors.”

A 2021 passion has been crafting quilts for each of her 15 grandchildren for a family reunion at Thanksgiving. She will make more than 20, so the youngest are still left with choices of their favorites.

“I do this for the people I love. I think of them while I am doing it,” Horst said.


All four women benefited from plenty of childhood sewing experience, with Austin making her own clothes starting at age 11. Horst’s mother was an artist, and her three daughters are engaged in creative professions.

Austin and Hollis are both long-time educators. While leading a charter school, Austin would have third-, fourth- and fifth-graders make graduation quilts for the eighth-graders.

Hollis described the thinking she goes through — one likely adopted by many quilters.

“It’s most fun when you’re doing something for someone else. I want it to be special for them; it drives the creative process,” she said. “To me, quilting is like doing a jigsaw puzzle — with fabric.”

There is no shortage of places to start for those looking to begin quilting or increase their proficiency. Quilt and fabric shops are reliable standbys.

Instagram and YouTube are popular visual outlets. Horst has her own blog — Dream. Quilt. Create. — and follows other blogs. Hollis reminded of another tried-and-true resource.

“Sit down like I did and have somebody guide you through a pretty simple project.”

That basic beginning may well lead to the quilting joy shared by so many women in Maricopa and beyond.

This story was previously published in the October issue of InMaricopa Magazine.