Quilts: Greater than the Sum of their Parts

Posted By: Lee Drury

June 03, 2012


One of the long-standing traditions at Camp Denali is the presence in each cabin of a hand-made quilt for each bed.  These quilts bring visual warmth to the cabin and literal warmth to guests, but time works normal wear and tear on quilts.  Once the quilt is beyond simple repair, it is designated a Staff Quilt and replaced with a new one.

This year eight quilts retired.  This meant that eight new quilts needed to appear on those guest beds.  Since the best time to build quilts is before the guest season starts, in early May, before the Park road opened to travel, two additional staff members, Alex and Lee, joined the early wave of “openers,” and flew out to Kantishna to assist with waking up the property for the season…and to make quilts.

With the designs chosen, and with Jenna assisting, we selected fabrics, reviewed skills and reminders necessary to the cutting of fabrics, width of seam allowance, pressing of seams, tying layers (backing, batting, top), where to tie the layers….  Lots of information.

Next?  Production.  For two-and-a-half weeks--and under Jenna’s initial direction, Alex and Lee cut, sewed, ripped out, re-sewed, matched seams, pieced together, safety-pinned layers, wrestled with turning the stitched layers, “ditch-stitched” the quilt, and chatted, laughed, shared stories, watched snow fall and sun shine.

As we sewed we named the quilts:  the queen-sized quilt for Last Chance became “Infinity” (it has no border); Nunatak’s double is “for Signs and for Seasons and for Days and Years” (spring flowers, autumn leaves); and the two twin-sized quilts for that cabin and of matching fabric are “Romulus” and “Remus.”  The four twin-sized quilts for Last Chance are C, S, N, and Y (the fabrics are the same, but the pattern keeps changing).

The final step is Jenna’s.  On the back of the quilt near one corner, she embroiders the first three letters of the cabin name, the initials of the three of us making the quilts, and the year in which they were made.  We hold the memory of the shared work, but the finished work holds each of us in memory, too.  

So the tally:  three people, eight quilts.  Three friendships cemented by working together, and then an additional eleven people to hold the quilts for the picture.  Another equals the photographer.  Plus all the housekeeping staff handling the quilts, the guests who’ll pull those quilts up around their shoulders against the Alaskan evenings.  

Far more, these quilts, than simply colorful fabric.

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Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.