What does Joann Webb of Grain Valley have in common with some 400 outstanding quilters participating in the American Quilter's Society QuickWeek Contest in Grand Rapids, Michigan next month?

Joann's entry, “Espalier,” will be displayed at the Devos Place Convention Center with more than 450 entries from 41 states and 14 countries. The juried event recognizes the artistry of quilt makers vying for $54,000 in cash awards. The former Blue Springs resident says she will be rooting for her “Espalier” to capture first place in the “Large Applique” category.

“It would be exciting (to win),” she exclaims in a soft voice. “It would just make me proud of my work,” which has been exhibited in some 40 AQS shows and in one international show. “(I am) excited and I hope (the judges) like it.”

But as much as she would like to attend the upcoming event, “I won't be traveling to this show,” she laments, explaining she's already attended eight shows this year and confesses: “I can't travel to them all.”

Referring to herself a perfectionist whose favorite pastime is recreating trees and bird appliques, Joann strives to make the espalier as realistic as possible using fabric and not paint, or anything other than fabric.

“And that is kind of what I have done with this quilt. I put it in a setting of espalier fruit trees so the tree is in a grid, and the grid leads to an opening for the birds. I just enjoy creating birds and trees.”

As for the “Espalier” quilt, which took about two years to complete, Joann proudly says, “It is totally mine. I came up with the idea. I have been designing my own quilts for competition at least since 2010. I love designing and creation. I do. I draw it and use my drawings as templates for the pieces. Then I applique the pieces on the background fabric.”

Always trying to do better. That's one of Joann's goals as a quilter.

“I just want to improve with each quilt, and the only way to know that is from the judges' comments at each show and use their comments. And if I win a ribbon, that gives me a measure of how good my quilt is. Sometimes cash awards feel like my quilts have value and that makes me feel like there is a value to my work. That is why I keep making so many quilts. I just want to get better.”

“And,” she adds, “there are a lot of things I want to put on my quilts that I haven't done yet.”

Where does Joann get her inspiration?

“Mostly from nature,” she says. “I believe that sometimes God actually gives me these ideas, like the bird quilt. I keep birds in my backyard, and my quilt features 27 birds and three butterflies. With the espalier fruit trees, I just saw a picture of a tree that was clipped and trained to grow together to create a grid. I saw that and thought it would be great to create and a good place to put birds,” she laughingly explains. “I just try to copy as close as possible what God makes.”

Joann might never have taken up quilting seriously had she not suffered a back injury some 20 years ago.

“I just had back surgery and made a quilt for my grandson while lying flat on my back. I made it by hand, and it wasn't done well,” she recalls.

It served a purpose, though. It got Joann interested in quilting. And once learning to applique, “I just got hooked. It was the only thing I wanted to do.”

Today, quilting is still an integral part of Joann's life as a retiree, much more than it used to be.

“I've kind of slowed down. I want to still create, but I am in no rush. I can be interrupted and it doesn't matter,” she laughingly admits. “I have designed some patterns, published and sold them for the past seven years. But I am no longer doing that. I am slowing down and retiring. But I still want to create.”

– Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.