One of the most enduring aspects of the organizational life of the AWI has been the production, display and judging of handicrafts. At constituency conferences, each branch displays handicrafts that are generally judged by a home economist.  The branch the wins the most points receives a trophy that might take the form of a plaque or a tray on which the name of the branch is inscribed. 

Each year the Handicraft Convener prepares and distributes a list to each branch of the categories, or classes, for submission. In 1961 there were more than 60 classes of handicrafts from which to choose. By 2009, this number had risen to more than 250. Over the years, the classes in the handicraft competition have altered with changing fashions.  For example, in 2009, there is a class for computer-enhanced photography, as well as more traditional handicrafts like knitting, crocheting, tatting, sewing, and quilting.

The handicrafts produced by WI members serve pragmatic as well as aesthetic purposes. Branches would often made quilts for community members who had lost their homes to fire, or for new families coming into the community.  Some of the quilts were commemorative, with each quilt block depicting the name of a branch member.  Today, Cottonwood Women’s Institute has many such quilts that are displayed at the Cottonwood Community Hall, new Bowden, Alberta.

Organizational records indicate that handicraft competitions were held prior to the 1933 provincial convention in Calgary, Alberta.  In 1933, under the guidance of the Household Economics committee chair, the first provincial competition was held and the display “...on that occasion was a credit to any organization, the quality so improved in intervening years that the exhibits became of a very high order indeed” (Story, 26).  

In the early years of AWI, the larger community appears to have appreciated and recognized the high quality of the handicrafts created by AWI members.  In the May, 1935 council minutes, members of the Handicraft Guild proposed the establishment of a centre for teaching the various forms of handicraft and asked if any financial support could be given the guild (Council Minutes).



Alberta Women’s Institutes May 20-24, 1935 Council Minutes.

Wood, Cornelia. The Story of the Alberta Women’s Institute, 1909-1955 n.p. 1955