Local quilt maker featured on website

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 28, 2004

Elmira Sanders will tell you she used to love to go to the lake whenever the weather was right and the fish were biting.

&uot;Oh, yes, fishing was one of my favorite things in the world. Then this ol’ arthritis started up and it sure can hurt – my knees just don’t hardly want to go sometimes,&uot; she explains.

Despite being confined to her Haygood Drive house a good deal of the time, this industrious lady is not &uot;just sitting around on her hands.&uot; Those hands, in fact, are busy creating masterpieces from fabric, needle and thread.

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I found out if you have something to do, and you enjoy it, it sure does help take your mind off the pain,&uot; Sanders says.

Quilting is what occupies many of Sanders’ waking hours.

And it’s not the kind done with pre-printed fabric purchased at the store, either.

Elmira Sanders does it the old-fashioned way, piece-by-piece, carefully cut, sewn and quilted together by hand. And she has lots of experience.

&uot;I have been quilting – oh my goodness, for years and years. I liked to quilt when I was young and now that I’m old, I still like it.

&uot;I always liked to make dresses and shirts, and I would keep my scraps and use them for my quilts – I never did go out and buy any material ‘specially for quilting,&uot; she says.

Now, fruits of this Butler County native’s expert quilt-making skills can be seen and admired by thousands of Internet users all over the globe, putting &uot;the best small town in America&uot; on the map once again.

It’s a story that has taken quite a circuitous route, and it all started with a carload of shirts – and a knitting &uot;blog&uot; (website log) – in Tennessee.

It started on the Internet

Ann Shayne is a Nashville resident who started Mason-Dixon Knitting online with her Internet pal Kay Gardiner last fall (&uot;we had been e-mailing each other about our knitting obsession for months and decided the world really, really needed another knitting blog&uot;). The two share postings and photos on their website of their latest &uot;projecks&uot; (as Kay and Ann affectionately refer to their work) and share often lighthearted glimpses of their daily lives. (Kay lives in New York City, hence the name &uot;Mason-Dixon&uot; for their blog.)

Shayne has a connection to Greenville: her father, physician and author Clifton Meador, grew up here and is currently working on a book of his childhood memories in the Camellia City.

Making lemonade

Shayne had some bittersweet memories of her own to deal early in 2004, a true &uot;when life-gives-you-lemons&uot; moment.

&uot;We had been cleaning out the home of my husband Jon’s late father, Herb Shayne, a sad task that left me feeling sentimental,&uot; Shayne explains.

There were several closets filled with her late father-in-law’s clothes. And there were lots, and lots, of shirts.

&uot;There are many who could tell you Herb was a dapper dresser – few could tell you he had about two hundred shirts in his closet,&uot; Shayne says wryly.

She had good intentions of giving it all to Goodwill, but found she could not let those shirts, and the memories they held, go.

&uot;When I saw all of Herb’s beautiful shirts – Oxford cloth, windowpanes, checks, plaids, every shade of blue – I wondered if, somehow, a quilt could be made,&uot; she adds.

Shayne considered tackling the project herself, but the passionate knitter soon realized creating such a quilt &uot;would put an end to all knitting-related activities.&uot;

Instead, she decided to send out a call &uot;to any ‘quilty’ folks who might be interested.&uot;

A reader in England told Shayne about a pattern made from shirting material she had seen in a show featuring the quilts of an American living in England, a &uot;dashing and exuberant&uot; fiber arts genius named Kaffe Fasset.

After the reader mentioned the pattern, a long-lost high school friend of Shayne, who now lives in California, surprised her by sending a copy of &uot;Passionate Patchwork&uot;, Fasset’s book featuring the pattern.

&uot;When I saw the pattern ‘Shirt Stripe Boxes’, I got a chill. It was so beautiful,&uot; recalls Shayne.

And that’s where Greenville comes back into this tale.

‘A wonderful lady’

Greenville native Dr. Betty Ruth Speir, a retired physician who lives in Point Clear, is an old friend of Ann Shayne and her father, Clifton. After spotting the &uot;shout out&uot; on the Mason-Dixon website, she e-mailed Shayne and told her about &uot;a wonderful lady&uot; in Greenville who had worked for the Speir family for years and was highly qualified to complete the quilt-making assignment for Shayne.

&uot;Elmira is like my second mother…quilting, her children and her church are her life. I have never known a better person,&uot; Speir says.

Shayne, a dedicated fan of the famed Gee’s Bend quilt makers, was thrilled at the thought of an Alabama woman – particularly one from her dad’s own home town – making the memorial quilts.

She had found the pattern and quilt maker to create it. &uot;After about four months of preparatory work (going downstairs to the basement to sort through the shirts), I sent off all the stripey shirts I could find, along with the copy of &uot;Passionate Patchwork,&uot; says Shayne, who admits she had pangs at sending off that &uot;luscious&uot; book but knew it would &uot;meet its destiny in Greenville.&uot;

‘A whole lot of work’

Sanders found herself with a bunch of shirts and Kaffe Fasset’s intricate quilt pattern to follow.

The design featured three different sizes of squares, with mitered triangles making up each square, &uot;so the whole is this beautifully rhythmic series of shapes,&uot; Shayne enthuses.

Creating that beautiful &uot;rhythmic&uot; quilt was no walk in the park, even for a seasoned quilt maker like Elmira Sanders, who had to cut out many, many fabric triangles, piece and quilt them.

&uot;Cutting all those little pieces, it WAS a whole lot of work. I wanted to make sure I sewed it so all those stripes went together, too, so it was not easy. But you know something, I have the patience,&uot; she says with a chuckle.

‘Big doins’ in Greenville’

The completed quilt debuted on the Mason-Dixon Knitting website last week featuring digital photos taken by Betty Ruth Speirs of the beautiful quilt and its creator.

Shayne titled the October 19 page of the knitting blog &uot;Big Doins’ in Greenville’.

Comments from some of the 11,000 readers who visit the site monthly began to pour in: &uot;Wow! That quilt is amazing…it’s gorgeous and technically very hard to do,&uot; said one reader. &uot;An incredibly beautiful quilt! The mitering and perfect matching of stripes…such patience, such skill,&uot; commented another. Shayne’s knitting blog partner Kay Gardiner adds, &uot;What an artisan…when Elmira and Kaffe get together, it’s magic.&uot;

Today the quilt is at home with Ann Shayne, where she has been &uot;admiring it endlessly&uot; since its arrival. &uot;It’s quite large… it’s just a marvel,&uot; she says.

‘Full circle’

Elmira Sanders is currently working on the second quilt made from Herb Shayne’s old shirts. This time around, she got to pick the pattern from Fasset’s book and is working some of his colorful madras plaid shirts into her latest creation.

&uot;This one has blocks, too, but they are bigger and it’s put together differently. They call the pattern ‘Grandmother’s Gift’, thought I am not sure why.

Sanders shrugs off the idea she is a true artist in fabric. She is just happy she has a constructive way to pass her days, and pleased those for whom she creates quilts appreciate her work.

&uot;I do enjoy quilting – and I still got an awful lot of shirts here,&uot; she says.

&uot;I don’t know if [Elmira] realizes just how many Herb shirts there are. She may end up making Quilt Number Thirty-Eight if she keeps this up,&uot; Shayne responds (she actually plans to have four quilts done).

Sometimes things just seem to fall serendipitously into their proper place in our lives. Ann Shayne knows that first hand.

&uot;There are some surprising convergences that seem to happen in the blog world. When Betty Ruth suggested Elmira, the whole idea seemed to have gone full circle: a woman in my father’s home town would make a quilt to remind us of my husband’s father,&uot; Shayne says.

&uot;England, California, Nashville, Greenville. This is a quilt that has come into being from around the world and it will be treasured for years to come. It has been a tender way to reconnect with a dear family friend, make a new friend – and find a use for a whole lot of shirts,&uot; she adds.

Shayne, who is currently work on a knitting book with Gardiner, hopes to one day meet the talented lady she has so far only talked with by phone. &uot;I hope Elmira will let me come visit at some point: she is clearly a wonderful, special person. I am so grateful to Betty Ruth for suggesting Elmira might want to make the quilt for me,&uot; she adds.

As for Speir, she is bursting with pride over the attention being given to the woman she calls her &uot;second mother&uot;.

&uot;Gee’s Bend certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on wonderful quilters,&uot; she comments.

You can visit Mason-Dixon Knitting by going to www.masondixonknitting.com. To learn more about Kaffe Fasset’s fiber art creations, go to www.kaffefassett.com.