Excerpted from an article that was originally published in the Weekly on May 16, 2019.
Carolyn Lingone stares intently at a silver needle just a few inches from her face as she does the meticulous work of quilting. As she keeps her eyes and hands focused, three other women a few feet away are doing the same. They are about 500 total hours into working on this quilt, which so far is a mix of red triangles sewn together to resemble angular pines. They’re lined up in rows against a cream background.
The women work inside Hesperia Hall, a brown clapboard building tucked away on a quiet road, under the shade of a few trees, deep in rural South Monterey County. The front doors are wide open and bright sunlight pours into the building. The women, most of them retired, swat at flies with thimbled fingers between bites of homemade lunches. For the first part of the day they talk—about weather, gardening, errands, covering all of the small talk. After an hour or so, their conversation slows as everyone turns their focus to the task at hand.
One of the regular quilters, Kate Snell, reflects on the activity as more than a community get-together, but something much bigger: “Hand quilting is a very transformative experience,” she says. “After some time, you’re not thinking about quilting anymore. You’re just in a meditation. (Though) it does take a lot of patience since it is very time-consuming, but I definitely feel more relaxed after a session of quilting.”
Hesperia Hall dates back to the early 1890s and is kept up by the Hesperia Hall Foundation, which has membership representing about 150 households in Bryson and nearby Lockwood. Members host monthly potlucks, annual cook-offs, open mic nights, yoga classes and craft fairs. One of the starring crafts are quilts made by this group of local women, which consists of four to eight members depending on the week. They’ve been meeting for almost 20 years, and make about 15 to 20 quilts for donation each year.
Every December, the group votes on a handful of traditional quilt patterns, which consist of colorful, geometric designs. For 2019, they chose the red, white and cream-colored pattern they’re working on now. The triangles resemble rows of pinecones, a traditional geometric quilt pattern.
About one-third of the group’s quilts go to the Valley Heritage Quilt Guild near King City, which donates them to adults who are ill. The Guild recently gave some to families who had moved from the King City area to Paradise, then lost their homes in the wildfire last year. The remaining two-thirds are donated to the Almond Country Quilt Guild in Paso Robles, which then distributes the quilts to sick children and children in foster care. One final quilt is raffled off each fall— generally generating an impressive $6,000 in sales of $1 tickets— and the money goes to a scholarship for a local student. The quilters decide which applicant will receive the scholarship based on participation in hall activities and their willingness to help out with local events.
Snell and her husband, Ed Buntz, have lived in Bryson Hesperia since 1982 after Buntz worked at Fort Hunter-Liggett. “It’s a real mix of people out there,” Snell says. “(But) it’s hard to keep a youthful community.” To help bring in a younger crowd, the quilters invite kids ages 9-17 to learn the craft. Last summer, a half-dozen kids attended.