Afternoon, ladies. Most of you know why you're here. You know what secret longings draw you, week after week, to this bright and tastefully appointed place, far from the prying eyes of a society that will not allow us to sew free. Many of you are hardcore veterans of the quilting society, old-school regulars of our little group that meets twice a month here in this church basement. You are loyal and trusted members of the sisterhood. Your furrowed brows are intent upon sewing, and the lust for bare-knuckled hand-stitching action pumps through your veins. You know full well what long-repressed urges find their release in the quilting way. You know what you want.

But some of you may still be wondering what drove you to this place, this mutually supportive environment where our raw, primal passion for patterning, cutting, piecing, and stitching has found a home, an oasis where our pent-up natural instinct to nurture explodes in a frenzy of furious, estrogen-fueled bonding. I see an awful lot of new faces in the crowd tonight, and that means one thing: Some of you little old biddies haven't been observing the first two rules of the quilting society. So, for the benefit of you rookies in the room:

The first rule of the quilting society is: You don't talk about the quilting society.

You don't talk about the fact that a well-made rotary blade sharpener can be found at fine quilting stores or through one of the better catalog houses. You don't say anything about batting or basting. You don't mention that the Rice County Piecemakers' new quilt show, "A New Century Of Quilting," will be held at the Congregational Church UCC, Parish House, 222 Northwest 3rd Avenue, Edina, MN, Saturday, 10-5, Sunday, 12 to 4. Or that there will be a quilt raffle, demos, and a charity auction. You do not tell anyone that admission is $2.50.

My name is Mrs. Bert K. Verdon. Helen to my friends. But you don't say my name. When you encounter me or a fellow member of the quilting society on the street, at a rummage sale, or at a charity bake-off, you will say nothing. You will exchange one wordless glance, recognizing each other by the bruised, pricked fingertips, the eyes fatigued from needle-threading, and the palms calloused from pressing fabric into the machine in a gentle but steady feed. You will know each other by the stitches you bear and the passion you both feel surging through your quasi-fascist, sewing-based revolutionary consciousness.

You will learn about even placement of scraps. You will learn to strip-cut instead of tracing templates the traditional way. You will learn to set delicate fabrics on a foundation to help them keep their shape, wear better, and hold up longer. You will learn all this and more, but you will not talk about the quilting society.

The second rule of the quilting society is: YOU DON'T TALK ABOUT THE QUILTING SOCIETY. Got it, ladies? You don't say that the best iron to have for quilting is a heavy, stainless steel one with no steam vents. You don't talk about using spray starch to give limp fabrics the body needed for perfect seams every time. You don't talk about marking your quilt's appliques with one-inch-wide medical tape, which leaves no residue and can be repositioned several times.

You will spot each other in airports and hallways, at cookouts and church bazaars. You will spread like wildfire across the nation in an ever-expanding network, a vast, subversive structure of untraceable underground cells, each one a den of feminine cooperation and unbridled, no-holds-barred emotional support. You will stealthily advance our quilting agenda from the shadows, protected by a shroud of silence and secrecy.

You don't cut more than four layers of fabric at the same time. You keep an eye out for cuts containing fabric fibers, as this is a sign of a worn-out blade. You keep your blade covered when not in use and out of the reach of little hands at all times, because safety is paramount. And you don't talk about the quilting society.

The third rule of the quilting society is: If this is your first visit to the quilting society, YOU WILL QUILT TONIGHT. You will affix batting, cut backing, and utilize straight or scalloped binding. You will use paper templates with the fabric basted onto the shapes to ensure accurate piecing. You will, should time and/or money be limited, be advised to use a "cheater's cloth"–a fabric printed with an all-over block design, made to look like a pieced or appliqued quilt top.

You are here because, deep down, you want to quilt. You think you have what it takes to be one of us, but quilting takes discipline. And it demands perseverance. You have to possess, from the gut, the willingness to commit to a long-term project, one that may well last months in the case of such larger projects as multiple-charm or friendship quilts. You will need all of these things, as well as numerous quality craft and sewing supplies, if you expect to survive here.

We in this room have gathered together in glorious rebellion against the dehumanizing corporate consumer culture that robs us of our womanhood. We are here to fight back against a society that tells us we must purchase our synthetic blankets and bland, mass-produced bedclothes from the machines that make them. A society that denies us the right to sew our own quilts with our own human hands.

Soon, sisters, we will move on to the next phase: Project Comfort. And the first rule of Project Comfort is: Don't ask questions. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Right now, it's time to initiate some new sisters into the quilting society. All right, ladies, enough useless talk. Now, which one of you thinks she's ready? Who wants to quilt first?