The annual Kutztown Fair quilt auction was held Saturday, July 5, 2014

Kutztown native and longtime quilter Craig Koller introduced bidders and spectators to a colorful palette of handcrafted quilts at a Saturday afternoon auction held on the second-to-last day of the Kutztown Folk Festival.

Each year, thousands of quilters submit their work for judging and sale at the festival's Quilt Barn. Those that receive Best of Show or Top Honors are displayed for the first week of the oldest continuously operated folk-life festival in America.

On the final weekend, prize-winning quilts are auctioned off. This year, 25 quilts sold for between $800 and $5,500. The record, set in 2005, is $15,500.

Master of ceremonies Koller, by day director OB-GYN medical education at Lehigh Valley Hospital, learned to quilt on his grandmother's quilting frame when his mother stitched together a quilt top for him at his request and a couple of neighbors offered to teach him how to finish the project.

Sharing the history of each unique piece on an outdoor stage directly behind the Quilt Barn, Koller explained how one quilt was single needle (one artisan only), another a cooperative effort of the Quakertown Quilters Guild, and the next top-stitched by the designer and quilted by two of the designer's Mennonite neighbors.

"Some people are better at appliqué, others at piecing and others at quilting," Koller explained.

Certain collectors value single-needle quilts, he added, "because they know that one person put all their love into it."

Best of Show went to "Feathered Star," "Whig Rose," Wilkum" and "Beyond Bear Paw," — they auctioned off for between $1,250 and $3,300. But second-place winner "Garden Path" by Kutztown native Wanda Weiser brought in the most cash.

Weiser also holds the record for historical top seller; her 2005 creation now graces the lobby of a shop in Chalfont.

How did it feel this time when the roof came off on the bidding for her appliquéd and multicolored medallion quilt of muted reds, blues, golds and greens?

"I cried," she said.

Koller, who has been involved with the festival for around 15 years, said it's always interesting to see what themes emerge within the competition each year.

"This year it's color, and we were trying to figure out why," he said. "We decided it was probably the long winter."

Over the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, colors were decidedly dark and gloomy, he said. "It could make for a neat socio-financial research project."

The Quilt Barn is particularly popular among visitors to the festival, many of whom travel from outside the area to see what's on display. Barbara and Ernest Gelb of Wilkes-Barre attend the auction every year and often bid. On Saturday, they added two quilts to their collection.

"She's going to bid on this one by the look on her face," Ernest Gelb said moments before his wife raised her bidding card, winning "Nana's Garden" for $2,200.

While $15,000, $5,000 or even $2,000 might seem like large sums, festival organizers say a single quilt often represents many months or up to a year of work.

"I always wished they would go for more money," quilt Director Carol Hoppe said. "I sometimes wonder if people really know what goes into the making of quilts. The creativity that goes into the work is just fantastic."

Koller recalled one quilter who meticulously tracked the cost of materials and time invested so that at the end of the bidding she could calculate her earnings.

"She got paid 37 cents an hour for that quilt," he said.