Quilts on the Beach

Located an hour north of Seattle, Camano Island is home to a summer quilt show that was founded to support a historic fishing resort where generations have created cherished memories.

Less than a day’s drive from Sisters, Oregon, the bucolic setting every summer of the famous Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, is a smaller outdoor quilt show held in no less an idyllic location: Quilts on the Beach on Camano Island in Washington’s Puget Sound. On the last Saturday of every July since 2010, the Cama Beach Quilters have decorated the exteriors of small vacation cabins with quilts that they have made and invited the public to come see and buy. The reasons behind why Quilts on the Beach was started in the first place go beyond simply wanting to display dozens of beautiful quilts, reasons that are inextricably linked to the show’s venue.

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Now part of Cama Beach State Park, the Cama Beach Resort’s rows of waterfront cabins were first opened during the Great Depression to offer local families an affordable and accessible vacation destination. Within 20 years there were 14 such resorts on the island, but Cama Beach Resort was the last of its kind when it closed in 1989. Urged on by granddaughters of the original owners, Washington State Parks acquired and started rehabilitating the property in the 1990s. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, and the cabins were reopened to the public in June 2008.

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One group of people was more than ready for that long-awaited reopening: the Cama Beach Quilters, an offshoot of the Camano Island Quilters Guild. Since 2002 they had been making quilts specifically with those little cabins in mind prompted by the grassroots efforts of a local couple, the McEwens, who had asked a park ranger what they could do to help support the new state park.

“Audrey is a quilter and her husband is a woodworker,” describes Pam Fredericksen of the Cama Beach Quilters. “Both got volunteers to help them form groups, two of at least nine volunteer support groups. The guys built chairs, tables and benches, and the quilters set themselves a goal of 100 quilts. Camano is a great place to be a volunteer! Cama was added as a state park, at a time when parks were closing due to financial difficulties during the recession, mostly due to its volunteer support and its ability to be pretty much self-supporting because of the cabins.”

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By the time the park opened in 2008, the quilters had surpassed their goal of making 100 quilts for use by guests and set a new one of holding an outdoor show to display and sell their handiwork. In 2010, the first Quilts on the Beach show took place.

Though it’s a relatively young show, Quilts on the Beach has quickly built a following. “There are cabin guests, who have been forewarned that there will be quite a bit of activity on the day of the show, who have booked intentionally for that weekend,” Fredericksen says. “Many of our repeat guests announce that they’ve brought their checkbook with the intention of buying at least one quilt. We have had guests from many parts of the country.”

According to the state park’s website, no bedding is provided in the cabins and guests are responsible for bringing their own linens. The reality is that each bed in each cabin is topped with a quilt made by the Cama Beach Quilters. “The quilts provide a bit of color and protection for the mattresses, which have a stain-proof covering,” Fredericksen explains. “Cabin occupants are asked not to put the quilts on the floor nor take them out of cabins. We also made curtains which attempt to protect the quilts from fading, but eventually they also fade and need replacement, which we have been doing as well for the past few years.”

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“Gently used” quilts are put in a Last Call area at the annual show, where they are sold for greatly reduced prices. “These have all sold out when offered over the past three shows,” Fredericksen says.

Cama Beach Quilters gained new members in 2017 and brought in enough funds to cover their costs for longarm quilting, batting and new shelving. Thanks to some strategic shopping, they were able to purchase 250 yards of fabric at a deep discount, enabling them to create more complex quilts than they were able to make when they relied entirely on donated materials (though they are still supported by and always appreciate donations). The 2017 raffle quilt raised $908 for the Cama Beach Foundation’s educational efforts.

“Little has changed since Cama Beach Resort’s earliest days in the 1930s,” says Tina Dinzl-Pederson, interpretive specialist at Cama Beach State Park. “Many visitors from earlier years return again and again with stories about the ‘magic’ this special spot has.”

The impact the park’s quilts have on visitors resonates throughout the year, long after July. Dinzl-Pederson remembers one young member of a multigenerational family that attended the park’s Winterfest in December 2017. Though older generations of this family had been frequent visitors, this would be the first time for the young grandchildren.

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“When he entered the cabin, the young boy saw the wonderful quilts and rushed over to a bed and wrapped himself in a quilt,” Dinzl-Pederson says. “He loved the way it felt, perfect and cozy. He looked at his Nanna and said, ‘Do we get to keep this?’ She said, ‘No, but we can enjoy it while we are here.’ She knew that quilts were on display around the property. Later that day they were looking at display quilts and he found one that he really liked because it was so soft and wonderful. Nanna bought it in secret to give as a gift at Christmas. The wonderful experience they were hoping to share had happened.”

Quilts on the Beach will be held July 28, 2018. To learn more, visit www.camabeachfoundation.org.

Photos courtesy Cama Beach Quilters

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