In mid-19th century, American women might have labored by candlelight to sew together pieces of fabric to create a quilt for warmth.

Today, quilts remain functional but can also be works of art created by hand or machine.

Functional and artistic, hand-made and machine-made, old and new quilts were showcased at the 10th annual "A Quilt Exhibit: Fabrics & Fabrications," which opened Friday at the historic Southport Congregational Church and ran through Saturday.

None of the more than 1,000 quilts included in the decade of shows has been repeated, a tribute to the inventiveness and ability of quilters going back hundreds of years, organizers said.

"I have 140 quilts never shown before. My oldest quilts are signed and dated 1852. I have two quilts that came from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota," said Cecily Zerega, the event's staging chairman, who founded the quilt exhibit with Judy Reynolds.

Representing contemporary times was Pam Poling, a staff member of the church, who demonstrated the use of frame quilting using perle cotton 8-gauge thread. "This is a huge trend now so I wanted to give it a shot. I wouldn't say it's easier, but it's faster. You're making bigger stitches so you're covering more area," said Poling, who will give a demonstration Saturday.

Poling said the name of the pattern she was quilting is called White House Steps, which was created in 1936, an election year, which saw Franklin D. Roosevelt win his second term in office. She used bright colors, saying, "I thought I would do this and call it Wacky White House Steps because it's an election year."

New this year was a display of miniature quilts, made by committee members, which were included in a silent auction. This year's special exhibit, which changes every year, was built around the theme, "Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice!"

"It's common materials used for something totally different," Zerega said. That display features pillows made from recycled tweed jackets and sweaters, teddy bears created from old fur coats and neckties, and one person wove together plastic grocery bags to make a tote bag.

Bridgeport artist Dalton Ghetti's unique art was included in the show. Ghetti carves the lead in pencils to create elaborate, miniature sculptures.

Pencils also figured in one of the older quilts on exhibit. Zerega said on one of the quilts from the collection of Richard Killeaney's grandmother, "You can still see the pencil lines used to do the quilt."

The event usually attracts about 600 people from throughout the state, and even from out of state. That doesn't surprise Poling. "Modern quilting has really taken off" although, she added, "It's free-style piecing, free-form piecing, and deeply personal."

Joyce Greenfield of Stratford, a former quilter-turned-painter, said she appreciates all art forms, "and this is certainly an art form."

"They're all so different. You can tell how unique each artist is. The quilts reflect the artists," said Faith Gray of Norwalk.

Sheila Tishler of Fairfield agreed. "I've never been here, and I've been in Fairfield for 22 years. The details are thrilling me. I think this show is brilliant, entertaining and fun," said Tishler, who has never tried quilting although she enjoys doing other forms of needlework including knitting and crewel embroidery.

The quilts were largely made by women, and the majority of the viewers were also female, but women haven't sewn up the competition on quilt-making. This show featured the work of several men, including William Fischer, who created Desert Rose in 1994 using applique and trapunto techniques. It took him 600 hours of hand-quilting using an 18-inch lap hoop.

Poling called Fischer's quilt one of the best examples of detailed hand work. Viewers were able to examine the work up close and can even ask white glove-wearing volunteer hostesses to show them the reverse sides to get a better look at stitches.

A portion of proceeds from the exhibit go to three non-profit organizations: Make-a-Wish Foundation of Connecticut, Emerge, Inc. and Project Learn.