LARAMIE, Wyo. — In the quilting world, all roads lead to Houston.
Houston's International Quilt Festival is the largest in the world, with more than 60,000 visitors. The International Quilt Association hosts its annual competition during the festival, awarding $90,000 in prizes to the top quilters in the world.
Laramie quilter Sherry Reynolds knew she had won one of the top eight prizes, but she had to sit through the entire awards banquet in October before she found out which one.
Knowing the big names she was up against, she downplayed her odds of snagging the biggest prizes. But as each winner was announced, leading up to the Best of Show award, her name remained un-called.
With two quilts remaining, each one hidden behind a black curtain, she again heard someone else's name.
"The tears welled up and you get the goosebumps," she said.
Finally, the last curtain rose, revealing "America, Let it Shine," Reynolds' red, white and blue tribute to the founding values of the country. In a daze, she stumbled through several media interviews while looking for her family in the audience — her husband Dan, and their children Taylor, 13, Darryn, 11, and Kara, 10.
For the rest of the weeklong show, she stood beside the quilt as thousands of people admired her craftsmanship.
"It's a moving quilt. It speaks, and people got the message," she said.
Reynolds started quilting eight years ago after a friend made a quilt for her daughter. She made another to match and instantly fell in love.
Reynolds made quilts for family and friends and sold a few on the Internet, with never a thought about the world of competitive quilting. It was a hobby she worked in around family life, which always came first.
In 2009, she showed her latest creation, a king-sized bedspread, to Cynthia Deveraux, who owned Quilt Essentials at the time. The quilt, called "Reynolds Crossing," featured wildlife scenes and elaborate original designs as a testament to her family's love of hunting.
"I was totally blown away," Deveraux said. "It's just incredible, and I still can't get over it. I'll never be that good as long as I live."
Deveraux and another local quilter, Alice Kay Arnett, who teaches classes around the country, encouraged Reynolds to enter her bedspread in a few contests. That's when she started winning prizes at large national shows, winning 75 ribbons in the last three years.
"She has a natural eye for the quilting. She can see what patterns can be put on the quilt. That's a hard thing," Arnett said.
Reynolds was inspired to create "America, Let it Shine" after having a conversation with her kids about the state of the nation.
"We were talking about history, and I thought, I really want to make a quilt that reminds people of where we came from. To me, part of the reason where we're at is because a lot of those things have been forgotten," she said in an earlier interview.
She started with a mariner's compass, a traditional image with a star at the center, as a symbol of a guiding light. She knew the colors would be red, white and blue and the rest fell into place, the ideas coming so quickly she almost couldn't get them down on paper fast enough.
To make the quilt really shine, she embellished it with 5,121 Swarovski crystals. She arrived at that number by adding up the number of words in the Constitution, the "Star Spangled Banner" and the Pledge of Allegiance, plus the number of years the United States has been a country.
Reynolds estimated that it took her about 1,000 hours to create the quilt over 10 months. Despite a last-second trip to Denver to get her machine repaired, she finished in time to enter a show in the fall of 2011.
"The quilt is probably the most beautiful thing I have seen," Arnett said. "The workmanship is perfect. The design is outstanding."
Ask Reynolds about her talent as a quilter and she'll smile, maybe blush, and insist that she's no better than anyone else.
"I still don't think it's dawned on me how big an honor it was to win (Houston) just because I'm not quilting for prestige or to earn the honor. I don't consider myself any better than the average quilter," she said.
"Winning the Houston means that that is the best quilt in the world," Arnett said.
She added that the winners of the Houston show are usually internationally known artists and teachers who spend several years on their entries.
"She hasn't been involved in the quilting world for very long, just eight years. For her to be a quilter who hasn't taken classes, and for her to win Houston in eight years is just unheard of," Arnett said.
Reynolds attributes her success as a quilter to her determination and the pride she takes in mastering the skills. She credits her parents, Jim and Carolyn Craven, for instilling those values in her, and she's working to instill them in her own kids.
"I use (quilting) as an example to them. You should always give it your best effort," she said.
While many quilters of her caliber teach classes at the national shows, Reynolds has so far declined.
"My job is to be a mom right now and raise my kids, teaching them the morals, values and tools for a successful future," she said.
Information from: Laramie (Wyo.) Daily Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com