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Napa Firefighter Wins for Quilt at Town and County Fair

“I don’t want to get into making quilts from other people’s ideas. It takes away from me doing my own thing." — Napa firefighter Albert Burgess, who won a fair ribbon for a quilt made from his wife's wedding gown.

Most guys want a man cave in their home.

Not Albert Burgess. He is very satisfied with his sewing room — well, maybe it’s more his storage room.

“I have a sewing room, but I don’t like to work in there. I like to be with my family in the living room. So, I haul all my supplies into the living room. It drives my wife crazy,” Burgess said.

“My sewing room is really just where I keep all my supplies and materials.”

Burgess, a nine-year Napa city firefighter, makes quilts, two of which are entered in this year’s Napa Town and Country Fair.

“I am proud of both of my quilts at the fair. But one is really special,” Burgess said.

“I used my wife’s wedding dress for the quilt’s background.

"We don’t have any daughters, so she had no need for the dress. She was going to donate it. Then I got the idea to use it for a quilt.”

It took Burgess about a year, working on the quilt off and on, to finish the
"double wedding ring" pattern quilt, which won fifth place at this year’s Napa Town and Country Fair.

One fair goer, Cari Conley of Napa, called the quilt "ridiculously beautiful." Another, Thane Knutson, saw Olympic rings in the design.

"The double wedding ring quilt is a very difficult quilt to make and he was a beginner," said Helen Sexton, a fellow quilter and member of the Napa Valley Quilters Guild. 

"He did all the cutting, piecing and machine quilting by himself," Sexton said.

Burgess admitted, “It was a difficult undertaking.

"But I like a challenge,” he said.

Although Burgess said he is a self-taught quilter, he is quick to give Sexton credit for helping him learn and assemble his projects.

“Albert loves a challenge. He picks some of the most difficult patterns. And he never gives up," she said.

“Albert picks patterns that quilters who have been piecing for 10 years wouldn’t choose. There are not many men quilters. There are probably a few men who quilt, but don’t advertise it,” Sexton said. “Quilting is a wonderful way to express your creative talents.”

While creative, the quilting process is also lengthy and at times can be tedious and frustrating, Burgess said.

The quilting process starts with choosing a pattern and then cutting pieces of fabric in different shapes, called piecing.

From there Burgess stitches the squares together forming the front of the quilt. He then makes the quilt’s backing from one large piece of material. Stuffing is put between the front and back of the quilt and sewed together.

Next comes the real work — quilting the artwork.

Burgess uses Sexton’s long arm quilting machine to complete his final product.

“So far I have never been disappointed with any of my quilts,” he said.

Burgess got the quilting bug while working with Napa firefighter aide Madeleine Sexton, Helen’s daughter, about two years ago.

“Madeleine quilts as well. And I thought ‘I want to try that.’ It was a challenge for me,” Burgess said. “I tried it and liked it. It is a great way to cope with the pressure of my job as a firefighter.”

Burgess made his first quilt for his mother for her birthday.

“It took months, but it was worth it,” he said. “Since then I have made about 20 quilts.”

Burgess is the sole male member of the Napa Valley Quilters Guild, which has more than 80 members, said quilter Robin Rose, minding the guild table at the fair.

"He's not at all embarrassed to be there with all of us ladies," Rose said.

Burgess has no interest in making money from his artwork.

“I give them away. I’ve made quilts for my family. I don’t want to get into making quilts from other people’s ideas. It takes away from me doing my own thing.”

Burgess admits men quilters are few and far between.

“I take some ribbing from it, but I’m an easy going guy, and it doesn’t get to me,” he said.

“Actually more people are surprised when they hear I make quilts. I like that reaction.

"Making quilts is a real art. I don’t think people understand how much work it is.”

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