Manitoba Prairie Quilters 40 Years

Just Ruby

Kathy Paul & Bonnie Hooley


June 2, 2023


Earlier this year, the Manitoba Prairie Quilters (MPQ) celebrated 40 years as a guild. A 40th anniversary is referred to as a Ruby Jubilee, aptly named because rubies are traditionally given to represent devotion and passion.

This is certainly true of this prairie guild, which continues to flourish and grow because of the dedication and commitment of its members.

Forty years brings us back to 1983. The world looked different then: the median family income was $24,580; the average cost of a Manitoba house was $54,000; the metric system had been officially adopted by the federal government, yet we were still buying fabric by the yard and gas by the litre.

Around the world bigger things were happening. The internet had just been launched and cell phones were being introduced to the public.

It was a great year to start something totally awesome!

At the time, Marilyn Stothers owned Patchwork House, a local quilt shop. While the radio in her shop likely played Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean or Every Breath you Take by the Police, she got to thinking about starting a Manitoba quilt guild.

In October of 1982, Marilyn invited a handful of quilters to view a movie at the library, Quilts in Women’s Lives. Afterward, she passed out a survey to see who might be interested in starting a guild. The response was overwhelming!

Soon an executive was formed, the guild was birthed, and it became official in February of 1983. Forty years later MPQ is still growing, stronger than ever.

To appreciate how far MPQ has come, we need to be reminded of what the quilting world looked like back then.

Quilt pieces were likely cut with scissors, unless you had one of the first Olfa rotary cutters that came out in 1979. Cardboard templates made from cereal boxes were used as pattern guides.

Even though by 1980 Ken Gammill had created his long arm machine with an 18-inch throat, very few were long arm quilting or recognizing it as true quilting. As such, most quilts were being quilted by hand. Quilts were mainly functional; quilting as an art form was not yet widely recognized.

Manitoba Prairie Quilters
What did the founders of the guild envision back then?

Did they envision a library of quilting resource books that boasts one of the largest collections in Canada? MPQ has a fully-stocked quilting library that is rolled out at every meeting. During the pandemic, the faithful library committee took book reservations via email and packaged the books for contactless pick-up during library pick-up days established for this purpose.

Did they envision a quilt show hosting thousands of people? The Manitoba Quilt Reflections show is held bi-annually at the CanadInns hotel. Quilters stroll through to admire the award-winning juried quilts, and shop at the various vendors.

Did they anticipate that their little guild would be donating more than 700 quilts through ABC in one year! ABC (an acronym for Adults, Babies, Children), one of many MPQ committees, collects quilts for donation to various charities across the province. MPQ members are generous and love to rise to a challenge when there is a call for quilts.

MPQ currently has more than 15 committees, with new ones starting up regularly. The committees offer assistance to the quilting community in a wide variety of ways, from welcoming guests to writing articles for the monthly bulletin. This vibrant guild has no shortage of members willing to step up and help when committee vacancies occur.

Did they envision that new internet thing being used to host their web page, Instagram, and Facebook? Or not having to leave home on cold, winter evenings, and still be able to visit and quilt with their guild friends through a screen by their sewing machine? MPQ has embraced a hybrid model of in-person and Zoom meetings, which allows the guild to welcome members to meetings and virtual retreats from every corner of the province.

The world may have looked different 40 years ago, yet some things are unchanged. The passion of the MPQ guild that burned 40 years ago remains undaunted. As the guild celebrates its Ruby Jubilee, members eagerly anticipate and embrace what the next 40 years will bring.

The inner fire of a ruby is thought to represent the burning flame of passion in the hearts of those who have been together for 40 years. The MPQ guild is truly “Just Ruby”!

Kathy Paul & Bonnie Hooley
Co-Presidents Manitoba Prairie Quilters

We asked Bonnie, what is the secret to MPQ’s 40 years of success? Here’s what she told us.

Many guilds were started during the past 40 years. Like shooting stars, many guilds have come and gone. Few of them remain, and fewer still are vital and growing stronger every year.

So why ours?

I gave this a lot of thought and boiled it down to three major ingredients. Like legs on a stool, each is as important as the others—without the strength of all three, the whole thing topples.

  1. Committed & Dedicated Members
  2. Adaptability (as a group and individually)
  3. Strong Leadership
Commitment & Dedication

Rarely do you find a volunteer organization that has been around this long without vacancies on its committees. With 15+ varying committees, MPQ offers opportunities of interest to a wide variety of skill sets, and members recognize the importance of filling those positions and being supportive.

Members also understand the importance of mentorship and getting new people involved. Committees have new members, long-time members, and mentoring members—a sign of a very healthy guild, indeed.

MPQ members also love to be challenged. When the first 215 graves of Indigenous children were found at a former residential school, members donated 215 baby quilts to Indigenous communities, to show support for reconciliation. The challenge went out in late spring, when quilting usually winds down, but there was no trouble reaching the goal by the September deadline.

We are a committed bunch.


Nothing can test the adaptability of a group and its members like a pandemic!

MPQ did not just survive—it thrived! Members rose to the challenge, learning new skills and adapting so we could move forward. Grandmothers bragged they were mastering Zoom before their grandkids did.

Was it uncomfortable to change from the same old—absolutely! Did we grumble under our breath when required to register online—for sure. But members understand that like good medicine, the ability to adapt is required for the guild’s health as a whole.

The adaptability of MPQ was evident long before this—the pandemic just highlighted a strength that has always been there.

Strong Leadership 

MPQ past presidents include a long list of people who were pillars in their own right. Each new leader added something to the guild, making the foundation stronger. Planning always centres around being creative and engaging, and shows a willingness to adapt and try new things. Good leaders rally the members and cheer them on.

Recently, leaders had the creative and engaging idea of taking fabric scraps donated by members, sorting them into “Mystery Bags”, and selling them back to the membership.

The website crashed with members eager to sign up!…Why? Our leaders know how to rally!

First, a goal was set to raise money to support the ABC committee.

Second, members were taken out of their comfort zones and challenged to make a scrap quilt from the fabric scraps in their Mystery Bag, and then donate it.

The guild celebrated with a parade of the creations for the recipients, and of course there were prize draws.

Not once in MPQ history was a there breakdown in leadership. That speaks highly of the past presidents, and also the executives that supported and made them look good, as well as the various committee chairs and countless volunteers that always kept things moving forward.

Committed and Dedicated Members, Adaptability, Strong leadership—when the three work together and support each other, they keep each leg strong and the guild in balance.

Committed and dedicated members willing to adapt and support leadership, in combination with strong leadership adapting where needed to support members, make for a guild that will flourish through whatever 40 years might throw at it.

Does your guild have some unique ideas for keeping things interesting for members, attracting new ones, and mentoring future leaders? Please send your story to the editor. It may be used on this blog for the inspiration of other guilds.

Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023

Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023

Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023 in Edmonton, Alberta