Twelve years ago, rather than working outside in bitterly cold temperatures, stone cutter Jim Bryden of Sidney Center decided to stay home and catch up on TV.
But he soon found inactivity boring. When he asked his wife Joan, a quilter, if she thought he could make a quilt as well, she replied, “It’s only material. You can’t hurt it.”
Bryden started with a simple quilt, composed of 6-inch squares. Initial reaction to his work was “underwhelming,” he said, with one of his wife’s friends intimating, “I think Jim needs more practice.”
But on Saturday, some 50 people braved sub-freezing temperatures to attend a trunk show and quilt presentation of Bryden’s work — that’s Jim Bryden, not Joan.
“He surpassed me after his fourth quilt,” Bryden’s wife said Saturday.
Unfurling quilt after colorful quilt to the “oh”s and “ah”s of the audience at the Sidney Memorial Library, Bryden recalled how he transformed the winter “blahs” into the creative outlet of quilt-making.
Bryden spoke of going to quilt shops and exhibits with his wife, joking about his bus trips to quilting destinations surrounded by mostly women. He now throws out quilting terms such as “log cabin with a twist,” “bargello,” and “fussy cut” with the ease of a seasoned quilter.
Depending on the level of difficulty, Bryden estimates he makes about three quilts per winter season, using his sewing machine. Sometimes he uses a ready-made pattern, but at other times he draws up his own pattern on draft paper.
His quilting repertoire took a major turn after seeing a 3-D quilt on the Alex Anderson television show “Simply Quilting.”
“You want to stay away from that stuff,” his wife warned him. But he had heard the call of the 3-D quilting sirens and could not turn away.
Describing his work, Bryden frequently draws on terms evocative of high school geometry: equilateral triangles, polygon, protractor and more. His quilts present a kaleidoscope effect, switching perspectives as the quilt is turned in different directions. His patterns exhibit complicated calculations, requiring precise counting of geometrical shapes to execute his designs.
Despite the predominance of geometric patterns in Bryden’s work, he claims never to have studied geometry and dismisses any relationship between stone cutting and quilt making. Neither has he had formal training in art or design. His spectacular, well-crafted work appears, for all intents and purposes, to be purely intuitive.
Bryden doesn’t have an exact count of quilts in his collection, but he believes he has 20 to 25 of them. His quilts are not for sale.
“I wouldn’t have anything for these shows!” he quipped.
Over the past few years, he has given about 25 “trunk shows” at quilt shops, retired teachers’ and senior citizens’ groups, and quilt guilds. In 2006, his quilt entry, “Crystal Star,” won the “Grand Champion” designation at the Delaware County Fair.
“Absolutely amazing,” “inspired,” “gorgeous” were terms drawn on by attendees in reaction to his work. And it just may be that Bryden recruited another male quilt-maker through his presentation.
“This is the first time I personally have been in the presence of an artist — what he sees and how it makes sense to him,” Edmund Hillick of Mount Upton said. “It registers with me.”
A selection of Bryden’s quilts will be hung at the Community Arts Network of Oneonta at 11 Ford Ave. on the occasion of the organization’s annual Chili Bowl fundraiser. The event will run from noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 1. More information is available at www.canoneonta.org.
A quilting group meets every second Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Sidney library.