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Volunteer Spotlight: Orford Woman Leads Tight-Knit Group of Quilters

 Sally Arcolio, at the head of the table, works with members of the Ville Quilters on the quilt they are designing and will make and donate to the Orford Historical Society in celebration of the town’s 250th birthday. Arcolio has been leading the Ville Quilters for 12 years. Valley News — Diane Taylor

Sally Arcolio, at the head of the table, works with members of the Ville Quilters on the quilt they are designing and will make and donate to the Orford Historical Society in celebration of the town’s 250th birthday. Arcolio has been leading the Ville Quilters for 12 years. Valley News — Diane Taylor

Orfordville — To the best of her recollection, Sally Arcolio has been bringing together a small group of women for an hour and a half every other Saturday at the Orford Free Library for the last 12 years.

But that’s just a guess, because once the women get together and focus on the task before them, they lose track of time. As they work, talk and laugh, Arcolio said, “the outside world disappears.” On a Saturday in early April, the task at hand for the group known as the ’Ville Quilters, was to design a quilt that they would donate to the Orford Historical Society in celebration of the town’s 250th anniversary. They had settled on a nature theme and were in the early stages of designing a hand-stitched quilt that would incorporate images of porcupines, ducks, wildflowers and bears, with each image derived from a photograph that had been taken in Orford.

As with all the ’Ville Quilters’ projects, the design was one of their own creations. “We didn’t ask (the historical society) what they wanted,” Arcolio said. “We’re doing what we like.”

The projects the ’Ville Quilters have liked to do over the last dozen years have ranged from boxer shorts to knitted hobbyhorse heads, self-portrait quilt blocks to baby quilts to full-size quilts in a dizzying array of designs — dancing ladies, tea cups, purple irises, zinnias to name just a few.

But if there is a common denominator among all of these projects, it is Arcolio herself. A former home economics teacher from rural Tuston, Calif., Arcolio, at age 79, has an apparently boundless passion for education. Some of the women, such as Carol Boynton, had never sewn before they joined the group. But under Arcolio’s tutelage, they find themselves making ornate table runners or intricate needle cases, knitting sweaters, hats and mittens, crocheting blankets and doilies.

“You just have to believe that your students can do anything,” Arcolio said. “If you put your heart and soul into (teaching), you’ll get your reward.”

For current members of the ’Ville Quilters, which include Alma Wilson, Christie Manning, Susan Kling, Elaine Cole, Carol Boynton, Jean Dyke and Edith Alonso, the rewards of their efforts are multifaceted. They enjoy tapping into their individual creativity and also working together corroboratively. They find the act of hand stitching itself to be therapeutic and calming, and they are drawn in by the sensual pleasure to which any fiber artist will attest. “There’s something about the material that just feels good in your hands,” Kling said.

Not to be overlooked is the charitable nature of the women’s work. Virtually all of their major projects are donated to local nonprofits — the historical society, for example, or High Horses in Wilder, CareNet Pregnancy Center in West Lebanon, Friends of Orford Libraries, or a summer camp for children whose parents are incarcerated. An inveterate knitter, Wilson spends her winters making mittens that wind up in Kling’s first-grade classroom. “The kids love them, especially the bright orange ones,” Kling said.

But for all that, it’s clear that fellowship is chief among the rewards that come from sitting around a table for years at a time with a group of like-minded women, especially with someone like Arcolio as your leader.

“There are life lessons to be learned here,” Cole said. “Sometimes, we’ll be looking at a pattern and we’ll see something we don’t understand. ‘What’s that?’ we’ll ask, and Sally will say, ‘Don’t worry about that until you get there.’ It’s good advice.”

Always at the head of the table, clearly the woman in charge, Arcolio doesn’t downplay her role as the group’s teacher. But she doesn’t hide the obvious affection she feels for her students, either.

The life lesson about quilting, Arcolio said, “is that the blocks all meld together, just like we do.”

Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-737-3221 or dtaylor@vnews.com.

Do you know an Upper Valley volunteer whose efforts deserve to be recognized in a Volunteer Spotlight story? Send suggestions by email to Volunteers@vnews.com, or by mail to Volunteer Spotlight, Valley News, P.O. Box 877, White River Junction, Vt. 05001. Be sure to include your name and a daytime telephone number. For more information, call 603-727-3221 during regular business hours.