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Priest Lake's $64 Question...

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How much will this quilt bring?

They are called The Magnificent Quilting Ladies of Priest Lake, and so they are.

For the past few years, this supremely talented group of women, usually ranging from five to eight in number, have plied their needlecraft over the long North Idaho winters. On Memorial Weekend each spring, the ladies wait with baited breath as the unique masterpiece they have just brought into being is sold at auction to raise money for "charity."

The quilt auction is a featured "special" of the People Helping People Charity Live Auction sponsored by the Priest Lake Chamber of Commerce during the lake's annual Spring Fling celebration. This year the festival will be held on May 29 and 30, with events held at both Coolin, on the east side, at the lower end of the lake, and at Nordman on the west side. The live auction, at which the quilt is sold, is scheduled to run from 6:15 to 8 pm at Elkins Resort on Reeder Bay Road at Nordman.

No quilt to date has gone for less than $1,500, and that was a five-by-eight wall hanging, rather than a bed quilt, that was an experimental project in 2003. The most money raised by a single bed quilt was the $3,800 realized several years ago. Over the past six years, the quilts have raised something like $16,000 for needy causes in the lake community.

The "charities" the quilts have benefited include such Priest Lake institutions and organizations as the library, the E.M.T. and ambulance association, and the Priest Lake Elementary School. Primarily, however, quilt proceeds benefit the Coolin Civic Center building, originally the one-room, frame Coolin School.

Starting in 1990, Civic Organization members began stitching and raffling an annual quilt to preserve the old schoolhouse (circa 1914), which the community was in danger of losing. The Bonner County School District had turned the building over to the Civic Organization for use as a community meeting place in the early 1960s, after the county's rural schools were absorbed into a county-wide, consolidated school district.

By the 1980s the costs of maintaining the facility, situated on land leased from the state, had skyrocketed. Lucy Storro, a long-time lake resident who is still one of the quilters, conceived the idea of stitching and raffling a special quilt each year to raise funds for preservation of what was, and is, an historic community resource, and enlisted some of her friends to assist. Before much time had passed Priest Lakers were agreeing the raffles didn't do justice to the beautiful works of art the ladies were creating. The Priest Lake Chamber then offered a venue more reflective of the true value of the quilts, incorporating them into its spring auctions.

Each quilt has a Priest Lake theme, highlighting the attributes for which the lake is famous-bears and huckleberries, fish and outdoor recreation, gorgeous scenery. Applique is the technique of choice, but the embellishments can be many: embroidery that looks for all the world like larch needles, for example; beads, ribbons, and lace utilized as trim; fabric painting, etc. The ladies aren't afraid to innovate, and every quilt except one has been entirely hand-quilted.

"This year it's all applique," they noted, as they recently showed off what may be their most awesome quilt yet. Sonya Maloney, who acts as the group's coordinator, explained that they had adapted a design known as the Baltimore Album.

Their "Priest Lake Album" consists of twenty-five blocks of a pale yellow fabric depicting deer, bear, moose, trout, mountains and lake, wildflowers, birds, etc. One block, sporting an otter and a lily pad, even features a bit of reverse applique on the lily pad leaves. An Idaho state block shows a bluebird and syringa blossoms, whose yellow centers are composed of tiny glass beads applied to a cutout in the shape of the state. One block has an outline of the lake on it, and mountains behind. One of the most charming depicts four Canada geese. Stitched together and bordered with a strip of fabric ornamented by huckleberry leaves and berries, the blocks form a queen-sized quilt measuring 95 by 95 inches. "The Magnificent Quilting Ladies" hope it will break their auction record for a single quilt.

Other events at Elkins preceding the Live Auction include a silent auction, also featuring lovely items, a wine and cheese social, and a buffet dinner. A parade will be held at Coolin Saturday at noon, and an arts and crafts show will run all day on both Saturday and Sunday. The Coolin Civic Center sponsors those events, which take place in the area encompassing the Civic Center, The Inn at Priest Lake, and The Woods Inn. For more information on the gala celebration and its scheduled events, which also include a fun run, go to www. priestlake.org on the Web or visit www. priestlakeauction.org, or phone the Chamber at 208-443-3191.

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Priest Lake, quilt auction, People Helping People, Preist Lake Chamber of Commerce

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