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Bristol woman makes art of quilting, knitting and spinning

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BARBARA KENNEDY OF Bristol smiles as she displays one of the many handmade quilts she has produced over more than half a century.<br /> Independent photo/Trent Campbell

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — For Barbara “Bobbie” Kennedy, quilting is about making art or creating gifts for family or charity work, not about making money. The 88-year-old Bristol resident has been quilting for more than half a century, but she said she has never sold a quilt. So much time and effort have to go into making one, she says she couldn’t put a price to them.

“You take a raw material and you make something out of it,” Kennedy recently told a visitor who came to see a dozen quilts. “It’s work, but it’s also enjoyable. They kind of become a part of you.”

In addition to the price of materials, quilting costs a large amount of time. A smaller quilt only a couple feet on either side meant for a wall hanging could take a few weeks to produce, but for a full-sized bed quilt, Kennedy toils for two to three months depending on how complex a piece she has planned and how much time she can devote to it.

Every one of her quilts is different. It’s hard to say whether Kennedy has any favorite quilts, but some have turned out more memorable than others, like a red and white quilt with simple pictures of 19th-century women stitched into each square.

“I’m especially fond of this one,” she said. “I just like the little ladies. They’re so pretty.”

Quilting is only one of the octogenarian’s creative outlets. She also knits, usually spinning her own yarn.

Kennedy doesn’t know exactly how long she has been quilting, spinning wool and knitting or how many quilts she has made. “I’ve always sewed a lot,” she said. Kennedy taught home economics in Bristol, Middlebury and Jeffersonville high schools in addition to raising a family.

Kennedy’s granddaughter, Ashley Bushey, 22, of Bristol is following in her footsteps. Bushey does not quilt, but she began knitting and spinning when she was 10 years old, Bushey said, and has pursued it off and on ever since. Like her grandmother, a large part of what Bushey likes about knitting is the simple enjoyment.

“It keeps my hands busy,” Bushey said.

But there’s more to it than that.

“It’s relaxing, and it’s useful. I think the usefulness helps a lot.”

Bushey enjoys having a hobby in common with her grandmother, but as a UVM graduate student studying historic preservation, she also approaches the old-fashioned crafts from another direction.

“For me, it’s the historical connection as well,” she said.

Bushey likes using her grandmother’s spinning wheels for the spinning and at the same time she can appreciate the differences in design between one wheel and another, which one is more “authentic.”

In addition to quilts, Kennedy has made wall hangings, sweaters, hats and rugs. She knits some sweaters for charity, and some of her works are intended for family and friends, while many others remain in her house. It’s not having them she’s interested in as much as using them.

“It’s one of those fun things you do,” Kennedy said.

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