Member Spotlight: Meet Kimberly Bennefield

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Each month we're bringing you the unique stories and views of one of our Modern Quilt Guild members. This month's spotlight is on Kimberly Bennefield of the Portland MQG, and we caught up with her to talk about her modern quilting journey. Enjoy!

Every handcrafted quilt in Portland, Oregon can be found in the outdoors with the help of its proud maker — or so it seems on Instagram. The socially active Portland Modern Quilt Guild (PMQG), takes full advantage of the city’s expansive landscape as the perfect accompaniment to their artwork in a photograph, like one might pose with flowers in a portrait. When I get on a phone call with the guild’s current president, a position that is reassigned annually, Kimberley Bennefield is describing a haze that is in the skies of Portland. “It’s the smoke from the forest fires,” says Bennefield. “The sky should be blue, but you see a haze that just seems to hang there.”

Bennefield works from home on most days as a user experience designer for Intel, unless an in-person meeting or event should demand her to travel; but that rarely happens these days as most meetings can be conducted online. “If an [online] meeting is ever too stressful, I’ll go iron out a few seams and get in a much better place,” says Bennefield. The president of PMQG is self-taught with two years of experience in quilting through online classes on Creative Bug, YouTube, and an in-person class on free motion quilting. “While my daughter was away at college, I ran across a tutorial for a rainbow jellyroll quilt on Creative Bug that I thought would be cute to make for her,” says Bennefield. “I realized then that I had time to pay attention to quilting and the measurements, which I didn’t have when all of my [four] children were at home.”

It was the arrangement of colors that first came naturally to Bennefield. “I had been dabbling in Bob Ross paintings,” Bennefield says with a chuckle, “I did about sixty of those, which required a lot of paint-color mixing.” The layering of patterns and fabrics felt like a natural progression to Bennefield, who now describes a sewing machine as a pencil and a quilt as a sketchpad. The guild couldn’t believe that Bennefield had only been quilting for a year, and near to the end of her first year as a member, the guild suggested that she run for president. “In terms of standing in front of people, I was comfortable,” says Bennefield. After more than fourteen years with a previous corporate employer, Bennefield had led a black employee network which had regular meetings and a vision for expansion, much like the Portland Modern Quilt Guild. “We have a little over 300 members, and I set a goal to grow our guild to 400 members. I’m confident we’ll reach that goal,” says Bennefield.

The guild meets every third Thursday of the month, and when possible, these meetings also include a special guest speaker. This past May, the guild hosted Alison Glass, a designer with a following of over 45,000, for a truck show and interview session. The meeting was also available to the public for an entry fee of five dollars. The visit spurred a mini-challenge amongst the guild to quilt fabrics out of Glass’s Kaleidoscope catalog. “It was popular,” said Bennefield, “it got to the point where we had to ask members to return any unused scraps to make them available to members of the guild who hadn’t been able to receive fabric.” The leadership board also ensures that these challenges don't take on a competitive nature. The guild purposely doesn’t use words like won or lost but rather words like selected. “Part of my role is making sure that everyone feels heard and there aren’t cliques that form within the guild,” says Bennefield. “As soon as that happens, there has to be losers in the scenario.”

The guild is sticking closely to its altruistic roots. A charity sewing day is hosted at least once a month at Modern Domestic, a local sewing workspace in the Alberta Arts District of Portland. The workspace provides all the materials and tools for the members to make charity quilts. This year, the guild also raised over $6,000 for local charities in Portland through a fabric donation drive. “We focus on giving back where we can,” Bennefield says. “We have specific goals that we try to affirm.”

When I ask Bennefield what some of her other goals are for the guild, along with giving back through quilting, she responds with three: strengthening the art of quilting through guest speakers, building a community to learn through workshops, and continuing to grow the guild. “I see quilting as my future,” says Bennefield. As the user-experience-designer-turned-president of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, Bennefield is still searching for how else she will pronounce her newly found artistic voice in the world of quilting, and beyond.