Members of Ocean Waves Quilters attend a weekly gathering at the Cundy’s Harbor Community Hall on May 3. The group will hold its annual quilt show at the Orr’s Island Schoolhouse on July 7, 8 and 9. (Charmaine Daniels photo)

“Your quilts work magic,” says one thank-you card received by Ocean Waves Quilters, of Harpswell. The group of 35 passionate members makes and donates up to 70 quilts a year to Mid Coast Hospital’s palliative care unit, which serves people with serious illnesses. In one case, a man who was dying was able to give the quilt to his son as part of the son’s wedding gift. Another patient who didn’t live to meet her grandchild gifted her quilt to the baby as a remembrance.

“I’ve seen how much it means to the families,” says member Barbara Nolet, of Harpswell. “We comfort with fabric and love. Sometimes when we get the thank-you notes, we can’t even look at each other because we’ll all just start crying.”

Founded by Sue Cary in 1992, the group hosts a yearly quilt show in July. Last year’s show raised $5,000 for groups such as the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, Tedford Housing and the Harpswell Heating Assistance Program. While the proceeds from quilt sales go mostly to cover the costs of making the quilts, the show’s “boutique” area sells everything from potholders to cloth bags and table runners, and all of those proceeds are donated.

Nolet says she moved here eight years ago and discovered the quilting group was a way to knit in with her new community. Everyone in the group agrees that social connection and artistry play a huge part in their year-round weekly gatherings at the Cundy’s Harbor Community Hall.

“It keeps me sane in the winter,” says one member. “It’s my happy place,” says another. “It keeps me from ruminating,” says yet another.

The women (and one man) also enjoy a healthy addiction: sharing fabric. One member compares it to playing a giant card game where the deck is shuffled and everyone ends up with new cards, only in this case it’s new fabric.

Along with exchanging fabric, they swap creative insights and techniques. “It really is an art,” says Linda Carey, of Brunswick. “There are lots of creative juices flowing. I can come with an idea, lay out the pieces and get feedback.”

What about those who say it’s just sewing? To that, the members reply that their use of color, shape, composition and varying techniques makes quilting more like painting. One member notes that the skill and hours invested in a quilt could rival those of any oil painting. One member spent 1,700 hours on a quilt, almost as much as working full time for a year.

A quilt by Renie Weeks, of Harpswell. Weeks, a member of Ocean Waves Quilters, likes to use bright colors in her quilts and has taught her teenage grandson how to quilt.

Like the hours, quilting costs can mount quickly. The price of cotton has jumped, now averaging $13 per yard. A king-size quilt can use 16 yards, so sharing scraps of material makes economic sense. Rather than throw anything away, members “upcycle.”

“Can I see your stash?” is a common question, because sometimes members lay out their stash of scraps to let others see what’s available. “I got tired of brown and brought it all in one day,” says Carey. Are they fabric hoarders? Laughing, they correct the phrase to fabric collectors.

Although summertime participants hail from Canada and even England, two-thirds of the members live locally. The annual show represents “an authentic Maine experience,” says one member. Last year, more than 400 people attended the quilt show, and some now make it a part of their annual vacation plans.

The quilters welcome new members even if they’re beginners, because they believe everyone can learn to quilt and they’re eager to share their expertise. Self-criticism is discouraged in both new and old members.

While many Ocean Waves members work on quilts at home and bring in smaller projects, like knitting or embroidery, for the weekly gatherings, three times a year they hold weekend retreats at the Community Hall. They set up their sewing machines, along with cutting and ironing boards, and they bring in food. They go home at the end of the day and return in the morning for another dose of artistry and camaraderie.

Whenever they come together, there’s laughter sprinkled among the fabric and idea-swapping. And colorful imaginations at work.

Linda DeMars, of Brunswick, whose son works at the palliative care unit, has made nine quilts for his patients since January. “It’s the best group ever,” she says of Ocean Waves.

The Ocean Waves Quilters meet every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Cundy’s Harbor Community Hall. This summer’s quilt show will take place at the Orr’s Island Schoolhouse the weekend of July 7-9. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 7 and 8 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 9.

Charmaine Daniels, of Brunswick, is a freelance editor and reporter. She is a former copy editor at the Portland Press Herald and was editor of the St. Joseph’s College Magazine for many years.