WHEN KELLY JOHNSON'S grandfather closed his auto body shop in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., he invited her to rummage through the things and take what she wanted. While doing so, she came across an old barrel. Reaching inside, she pulled out a stained, faded and timeworn quilt. Most people would have thrown it away. But Johnson thought it might be valuable.

Upon returning to her home in Leeds, Utah, she contacted Jean Christensen of Salt Lake City. Christensen is a quilter, a collector of quilts and chairman for the second year of the Holiday Quilt Show.When Christensen saw the quilt, she agreed that it was quite remarkable. She offered to buy it, and it's now in her possession.

"It probably was made by one woman, since there is no variation in stitching," Christensen said. "And it wouldn't surprise me if it took a lifetime to complete. It's dated 1858, but it may have been started in the 1830s."

Christensen showed the quilt to the Holiday Quilt Show co-chairman Jeanne Huber and asked, "What if we were to duplicate it?"

And Huber responded, "Let's go for it!"

As a result, Huber - and some 30 helpers - spent nine long, challenging months going for it.

"Transferring the applique and quilting patterns from the original quilt was a real challenge," Huber said. "I made a kit for each block. Then some of the best quilters in the state appliqued them."

Even members of Huber's family got in the act. In fact, her husband marked and cut 2,000 red swatches for the berries.

"After these pieces were cut, I stuffed and wrapped them. Then they were sewn onto the quilt," Huber said.

She added that it was no easy task trying to quilt around these 3-D berries.

A close look at the quilt reveals button-hole stitches around the leaves, stuffed flowers, and embroidered and feather-stitched areas.

Twenty square blocks form the interior of the quilt, while 16 scalloped blocks make up the border. Most of it has been lap-quilted, except for two days of frame quilting.

This quilt has now been completed and is on display along with the original one in this year's quilt show. However, it's only one of 62 striking quilts in the LDS Hospital Holiday Quilt Show & Auction at Little America Hotel. The auction is scheduled for Friday at 8 p.m.

Some of the other outstanding quilts are "Our Logo," "Ohio Star," "Grandmother's Fan," "Nine Patch Variation," "Circus," "Legacy of Love," "Fond Farewell II" and "Eight-Pointed Star."

Although many of these quilts reflect traditional approaches, a number are creative and imaginative.

Christensen said quilters seem to fall into two groups - those who are really artistic and enjoy creating their own designs, and those who prefer to stay with traditional forms.

But apparently there's a respected place in the quilting world for both groups.

Just in the past few years there has been an increased interest in quiltmaking. And because of a number of local and national competitions, design and workmanship have dramatically improved.

Christensen pointed out that as this new excitement has caught on, it has attracted younger quilters. As a result, this art form is being handed down from one generation to another.

Times are changing. The picture many people have of gossiping women working around a stretched quilt is quickly fading. It is being replaced by what really happens at most quilting bees - talented women working together, sharing ideas and stimulating each other's creativity.

Some women are superb at creating designs, others at combining colors and textures. Some are top at appliqueing; others at quilting. More and more, the creation of a magnificent quilt is the result of the collaborative efforts of a number of talented people.

For many months prior to the auction, committee members and their friends met monthly at the Colonial House south of the LDS Hospital. They set up quilting frames in every room and held a king-sized quilting bee. Often, more than 50 women participated. And all the quilts that were made at those meetings will be auctioned off Friday night.

There are many other individuals and quilting groups statewide who have donated their masterpieces to this show and auction. Almost all of them are members of the Utah Quilt Guild.

Some women have donated a beautiful quilt every year since the auction started in 1983. One woman who had done so for four years decided not to last year. Later, however, she said she wasn't having any fun. So this year, she entered another one.

"I don't think anyone could do it in any other place but in Utah," Christensen said. "Local quilters are very willing to donate their time, their talents and their beautiful products."

Now in its sixth year, this annual quilt show continues to be a labor of love. The proceeds from the auction again go to a good cause - to further medical research at LDS Hospital.

Each year, the amount collected at the quilt auction has grown. In 1986, it was $64,000. Last year, it jumped to $110,000. After taking out operating expenses, the auction board sent a check to LDS Hospital for $91,000.

The public is invited to see the show between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, on the mezzanine level of the Little America Hotel, 500 S. Main.

It has been said that anything that grows under one's hands is beautiful. If this is the case, beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder. It is in the hands of hundreds of quilters who have made this year's Holiday Quilt Show and Auction a treat.