As we close in on this year's ninth annual Fabrics & Fabrications Quilt Exhibit next Friday and Saturday and my third year as a member of the planning committee,

I have come to truly appreciate the commitment, talent and knowledge of the committee members, many of whom are also quilters.

Our planning process began in early June 2010, when we met in the library of the Southport Congregational Church to discuss all aspects of this year's event, including the special exhibit.

It is always a challenge to come up with an idea for the latter, one that will both complement and add variety to all the glorious quilts in the show.

The inspiration for this year's special exhibit, "Quilted Couture -- Wearable Art," came from Donna Wilder of Weston. In 1979, she joined with a group of professionals in the fabric industry to plan an event for the first Quilt Market in Houston. From that, the idea for The Fairfield Fashion Show was born.

Through the years, fabric artists have been invited to create one-of-a-kind garments for "an extravaganza of wearable art," and each of the designs in our special exhibit was originally seen in one of those shows.

With Donna's help, committee members were able to identify and contact fabric artists from all over the country to participate in this year's exhibit.

We're going to display 18 pieces of quilted clothing, as well as accessories like hats and purses, from Connecticut, New York and as far away as the state of Washington.

Our nationally-known designers include: Virginia Avery of Port Chester, N.Y.; elinor peace bailey (who insists on all lower case letters for her name) of Vancouver, Wash.; Cheryl Bradkin of Coupeville, Wash.; Rachel Clark of Watsonville, Calif.; Chewryl White of Santa Fe, N.M., and Donna Wilder of Weston.

This year's special exhibit offers a tribute to quilted clothing's long history, as well as the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful and original garments being created today.

A lot of research went into this effort, and in this case a history of quilted clothing anchored our efforts. Information from books devoted to the subject and from the Internet promised that the theme would offer a rich contrast to the array of some 150 vivid and diverse quilts in this year's show.

About a week ago, I was with Cecily Zerega, co-founder of Fabrics & Fabrications, at a taping for a News 12 program called "Our Lives."

I was fascinated by her knowledge of quilting and the history of quilted clothing. She not only knows about the background of her craft, she teaches it and loves to share her knowledge. I was mesmerized and wanted to share a few snippets Cecily mentioned and add some information from the research that was gathered.

While many people tend to associate quilting with bed coverings, Cecily explained that as one of the world's oldest crafts, it originally was used in quilted clothing in Egypt and the Far East.

The earliest evidence of the technique is a carved quilted jacket on an ivory figure depicting an Egyptian pharaoh, circa 3,400 B.C.

Quilted clothing was intended for protection or warmth rather than decorative purposes.

During the Crusades, European soldiers encountered their Arabian counterparts wearing it as a protective covering and brought the tradition home. They used the garments underneath armor to reduce chaffing or to replace the heavy metal entirely.

Quilted clothing began to take hold in Europe from the late 12th century onward. Professional armorers quilted gambesons and other pieces for soldiers, with domestic articles being sewn in homes.

Quilted garments came into more general use in the 14th to 17th centuries.

While the earlier thick, padded clothes were typically worn as underwear for warmth, these eventually evolved into the quilted doublet worn as a part of fashionable men's wear.

The Renaissance brought increased trade with the East and exposure to some of quilting's more decorative aspects, and European quilters gradually adopted a more ornamental style. Its heyday came in the late 17th through early 18th centuries when quilted petticoats, waistcoats, caps and even doll clothes were popular among the upper classes.

I was amazed when Cecily showed me some of the couture garments.

A gorgeous quilted jacket with bright colors straight out of the Arizona sunshine really jumped out at me.

And she made a point of showing me another very unusual quilted jacket with dolls sewn onto it.

It was a real conversation piece. She told me that members of the Quilt Committee would be modeling pieces of this wearable art during the days of the show.

On display in the church sanctuary and chapel will be quilts and a boutique of more 225 items made by 15 women. They include doll quilts and other of various sizes; knitting; needlepoint; and sewn items such as potholders, eyeglass cases, aprons, cellphone cases, ipad cases, wine bags and even a few Christmas ornaments.

Karen McDonald, a fourth generation quilter, will put on a demonstration of appliqué techniques.

Steven Gaynes is an aspiring quilter who will exhibit one of his quilts in the Fabrics & Fabrications exhibit. He can be reached at steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.