Walla Walla Valley Quilt Festival draws few male quilters

Jess Berry may be the only quilter on hand at the show who makes full-sized quilts with all hand stitching.

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Jess Berry discusses his work at the festival on Saturday.

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Rick Jones, one of two male quilters at the Walla Walla Valley Quilt Festival on Saturday, talks with a woman selling cloth.

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This white quilt is completely handmade by Jess Berry over a year's time. Although he didn't keep track, he estimated it took him between 400 to 500 hours of work.

WALLA WALLA - There were plenty of men at this weekend's Walla Walla Valley Quilt Festival, but very few of them who made quilts.

Still, on Saturday morning at the Community Center, two male quilters could be found wandering about the show, spinning a few yarns with their female counterparts who vastly outnumbered them.

One of those men was Jess Berry, 78, of Walla Walla, who is proud to say he quilts.

"I make no bones about the fact that I like to quilt," he said.

Nevertheless, being in the minority, Berry said most people assume "Jess" is short for "Jessica" when they read his name on the quilter's information card.

"I frequently find people that will be surprised that it is a man and not a woman," he said.

That's understandable because when it comes to quilts, Berry said he hasn't found any common characteristics that distinguishes a male quilter from a female one. He noted when he is at a show and sees an unmistakable male name, he starts to feel a bit of camaraderie and a need to connect.

"Then you think, OK. I want to talk with him," he said.

About the only other difference that Berry did notice between him and female quilters is he doesn't feel comfortable pulling out his sewing in waiting rooms or in mixed company.

"When I am with a bunch of guys, I don't sit around and do a bunch of needle work," he said.

Growing up, Berry learned to quilt from his grandmother, though he didn't really get into quilting until he turned 47; that's when he took it up to relieve stress from his sales manager position and would come home at night and quilt.

"I do it now because I like the creativeness," he added.

So does Rick Jones of Walla Walla, who was the other male quilt maker roaming about the show.

Like Berry, Jones also started when he was 47, after his sister made him a quilt.

Pleased with the gift, he asked her to make him another. She dared him to make it himself, which he did.

Then he continued making quilts for the next two decades. But poor health has hampered Jones' quilt-making days.

Both male quilters said they have never been treated differently by female quilters simply because of their gender. Though in the beginning that was what Jones was expecting.

"When I first started, I thought they wouldn't like a man. But then I taught a class, and they loved taking a class from me," he said.

While Jones is not able to quilt as much anymore, Berry is still making his quilts, and he does it the old-fash ion way.

As if being a rare male quilter wasn't enough, Berry was probably the only quilter on hand at the show who makes full-sized quilts with all hand stitching.

"I won't say I don't like machine-made quilts. I greatly appreciate them. But I prefer to make handmade quilts," he said.

It is the way his grandmother taught him, and that's the way he'll keep making them. And he suspected, as he looked out at all the women and especially men inspecting the works of art hanging throughout the building, that perhaps there were many other men in the crowd who made quilts.

"I think some men have at least done a little of it, though they would never admit it," he added.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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