Quilting for Kyle
Joyce Hughes discovered a love and talent for quilting after some gentle pushing from Kyle Quinn, a Warminster man who was killed at Kutztown University in 2007.
"I'm so happy and glad
on the ride of Life and kicking butt
full of joy, Laughing, smiling,
adventure, nature, wonder, discover,
I love you
Yes I do..."
These lines of poetry by Kyle Quinn are the centerpiece of one of Joyce Hughes' numerous, intricately created quilts inspired by the life of the Warminster man whose death in 2007 rocked the township.
"He used to carry around this notebook and write his poems," said Hughes. "I blew up one of the pages and traced the handwriting, then built the quilt around the passage. I make a lot of quilts, for custom orders and competitions and shows. The ones that I think turn out the best are the ones that hold special meaning for me, like the ones for Kyle."
Quinn had been dating Hughes' daughter, Emily, for two years when he was assaulted and killed by three men while visiting his brother at Kutztown University. Over those two years, Quinn became a regular fixture at the Hughes' household, even when Emily started school at the Florida Institute of Technology.
"He would come over about once a week for dinner," said Hughes. "Kyle would leave at a certain time during every visit. I found out after he died that when he left, it was so he could drive one of his co-workers at Five Ponds to the train station. He just did things like that for people, quietly, without looking for any kind of attention for it."
It was Hughes' close relationship with Quinn that prompted her entry into the quilting world. She could barely sew when a group of her friends came up with the idea of creating t-shirt quilts for the 2006 class of graduating seniors at William Tennent.
"When I told Emily, she flipped out," said Hughes. "She knew I didn't know how to sew, I didn't even have a sewing machine. About 15 minutes later, Kyle being Kyle, he came up to me and asked me to make one for him. The next day, he came over with 24 of his old t-shirts, and I got to work."
Each month, Hughes met up with her circle of friends, a group of moms that first met when their kids were students at Longstreth and remained close over the years. She also scoured the Internet for any tips and advice she could find.
Not long after Hughes started, Emily saw how hard her mother was working on the quilt and asked for one of her own. The project started around Christmas 2005, and both quilts were ready by the June graduation.
"It was like Christmas morning when Kyle saw his quilt," said Hughes. "He loved it, he was so happy."
And Hughes was hooked. She started up a new project in the fall of 2006, this time using a technique a bit unconventional from the usual, square-by-square patchwork design typical of quilts.
Instead of having separate designs or image in each square, Hughes wanted the whole quilt to be one design and spent months stitching it together with smaller bits of material, a style called thread painting.
Quinn caught a glimpse of the new quilt during one of his visits and was astounded. A few days later, he came over with an application for a quilt show at Penn State Abington, which he was attending at the time.
"He gave me the application, and I thought, 'No way,'" Hughes said. "This was for me, there was no way I could put it in a competition for judging. I didn't think it was good enough. I set the application aside, and a few weeks later Kyle saw that I hadn't submitted it yet. He just gave this look, I could tell he was disappointed. So, I filled it out and sent it in."
In July 2007, Hughes found out that her quilt was one of 50 out of 2,000 entries selected for the show. She was going up against seasoned professionals in an industry that's a little more competitive than one might think.
"We used to enter our dog into shows, and the people there were extremely competitive," said Hughes. "They would make clicking sounds to distract the dog, and they didn't want anything to do with us when the show was over. The quilting shows aren't as bad as that, but it's still pretty bad."
On Sept. 7, 2007, Hughes got a call from the show that her quilt had earned a blue ribbon. It's a day she will always remember, but for all the wrong reasons.
"I got the call at 6 a.m. that Kyle had been killed," she said. "At 8 a.m., the show called me to tell me I won. I didn't know what to do with myself. Kyle was the reason I entered, and he was gone."
Hughes stopped quilting for a while as she mourned Quinn's death, but returned to the sewing machine to make one for Quinn's mother, Denise. From there, she re-immersed herself into the hobby, both as a form of expression and a way to keep her mind off Quinn.
Over the ensuing years, Hughes has entered competitions and shows throughout the country, racking up first place ribbons and viewers' choice ribbons and becoming a self-taught expert. She now teaches classes at Byrne Sewing Connection in New Britain, gives lectures throught the region and the U.S. and has a design contract with an Italian company called Aurifil.
Hughes has also joined a traveling quilt exhibit called "God Bless Our Troops." She contributed a piece to the other 60 quilts inspired by members of the armed forces, past and present. For $100, which benefits the troops and their families, event organizers can have the special exhibit displayed at their quilt shows.
The piece that Hughes created and submitted is inspired by the service of her nephew, Andrew John Hengy. Hengy joined the Marines while still a senior at Father Judge High School in 2002, receiving his high school diploma while at boot camp. In 2003, six months into his Afghanistan deployment, Hengy's unit was ambushed and he suffered severe injuries. He died on April 26, 2009, after years of surgeries and treatment.
Hughes will present the exhibit this weekend at the Celebrate25 Quilt Show organized by County Line Quilters. The show will be held at Archbishop Wood, March 24 and 25, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets cost $5, senior citizens cost $4, children under 12 are free (no strollers, please).
"It's a beautiful exhibit," said Hughes, "and it brings a lot of attention to the fact that our troops need more help when they come home from war."