Pretty much each morning, Jane Underys of Arlington Heights retires to her lower level quilting studio. It's an inner sanctum that friends rarely see, yet they all know the results.
More than 20 years of involvement with the Northwest Suburban Quilters' Guild, Underys has created more than 200 quilts of all shapes and sizes. But surprisingly, she never has had a prize winner.
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This summer, though, her colleagues in the guild surprised her and went one better: they named her the featured artist at their biennial Festival of Quilts, opening Sept. 16 at the Prairie Stone Sports and Wellness Center in Hoffman Estates.
"Just mention her name, and you will get a smile," says Jayne Borgelt of the quilters' group. "She knows how to warm a heart."
Borgelt points to Underys' many quilts created for people in need, from the prayer quilts that come personalized with hand-signed notes right onto the patches, to those used as fundraisers for the Alzheimer's Association, Ronald McDonald House, Quilts of Valor, and for breast and ovarian cancer foundations.
But the Arlington Heights mother of three also has made countless quilts for her many friends and extended family members, and decorative ones she rotates in her home.
Underys only found out about her featured role this month, and already she is fast at work creating more entries for the show. All this, and she also is planning her daughter's wedding next month.
Not to worry. That's another thing about quilting, she says. It grounds her and helps her to organize her day ahead of her.
In all, there will be some 300 quilts displayed as part of the festival, from wall hangings, and large bed sized ones, to miniature and antique quilts.
Underys herself will have 20 featured in the exhibit. They include those that are all hand sewn, to those that were completed on a machine. She also plans to include a wide range of sizes, designs and patterns. Not to mention color.
When she looks back at the first quilt she made she laughs at the neutral colors she used. Over the years, her creations have evolved into far brighter designs, often featuring whimsical appliqués that delight the viewer and warm the heart.
One of her favorites, the "Door County Cherry Quilt," has bright red cherries made using the yo-yo technique, the rosettes that give the quilt a three-dimensional quality.
Another quilt features a periwinkle blue pattern with a hand-tied bouquet of brightly colored appliquéd flowers.
"I've gone from duller colors to bright ones," Underys admits. "I don't know, they make me happy."
She suggests that it reflects her place in life, that as a breast cancer survivor she now cherishes the rich colors and textures of everyday life. Designing quilts, she says, offers a way to capture and express that vibrancy.
"I always took art classes in high school and college," Underys says. "But I never thought I'd do anything with it. Quilting has offered me that chance.
"I just love working with all the colors and textures, and trying new fabrics and techniques," she adds. "I try never to duplicate a pattern, so I'm always looking for something new. I just love the challenge of it."