Quilting brings pleasure, profit to local groups

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 29, 2005

On a recent Friday morning, two groups of women in neighboring counties spent their morning creating art.

They didn’t use pastels or paintbrushes or clay; these senior citizens performed with needle, thread and thimbles, carrying on a centuries-old tradition.

Meet the quilters of the Greenville and Honoraville Senior Nutrition Centers.

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‘We enjoy the fellowship’

At the Cedar Street location of the Greenville Senior Center, Lois Martin makes precise stitches on the border of a quilt stretched across a large quilting frame. The vividly colored creation of red, teal and purple cloth is one Martin pieced &uot;a long time ago, before I retired.&uot;

She has plenty of quilting experience.

&uot;I’ve been doing this for at least 50 years; I’ll be 90 on my next birthday. I guess I just love to quilt,&uot; Martin says with a smile.

Fellow quilters Valeria Fail, Lorain Pierce, Esther Williamson and Bettie Bone, who describes herself as &uot;a pupil in training&uot;, join Martin.

&uot;My mother wouldn’t let me quilt when I was a little girl; she said I was too near-sighted. So now I am finally learning how from these ladies,&uot; Bone explains.

A group of the Greenville quilters proudly displays a finished quilt in soft shades of pink and green. The quilt is being raffled off for a dollar a chance to raise money for the catered lunch the seniors enjoy each year at Christmas. &uot;We appreciate what these ladies do to help make the holidays more enjoyable for us all,&uot; Cathy Brown, site manager says.

‘Such a pleasure’

Williamson says she has been actively quilting for about 25 years.

&uot;My grandmother first taught me years ago. She would give me these little bitty pieces left over from her quilt making, and I would practice on those,&uot; she says.

Theresa Pierce, Lorain’s sister-in-law, isn’t a quilter, but she enjoys sitting in with the women as they work.

&uot;I like to supervise,&uot; she laughs.

She also gets to share in the good conversation that takes place around the quilting frame.

&uot;We enjoy the fellowship around the quilt,&uot; Martin says.

And there is an added attraction, Williamson says.

&uot;Quilting is such a pleasure. It’s nice to have something to show for our time and effort when we’re done,&uot; she says as she smiles and nods her head toward the pretty quilt underway.

‘It’s like milking a cow’

In Honoraville, two quilt frames are set up at the community’s nutrition center, located in the former Honoraville Schoolhouse.

Ida Belle Sims works alone on the border of one quilt, while a group of quilters – Ruby Stringer, Mary Lou Sexton, Mazelle Duncan and Wilma Brown – stitch away on another fabric creation.

In a corner, Mary Ruth Ryals and Ruth McGough are busy piecing together quilt tops from a selection of colors and patterns. &uot;These will be granny square quilts,&uot; Ryals explains.

The Honoraville ladies can’t tell you exactly how many quilts a year they average, but say it is &uot;a lot.&uot;

&uot;As soon as we take one out, we have another one going in. We usually work on two at a time,&uot; Ryals says.

&uot;Once the ends are quilted and you can roll it in on the frame, it usually goes pretty fast. Of course, if you are quilting every seam, it does take a long time,&uot; Duncan says.

As with the Greenville group, the Honoraville quilters work on quilts for senior center members along with ones made for the general public. Whoever is having a quilt made, supplies the materials needed – fabric, batting, and thread – and the quilters do the rest, stitch by stitch. There is an additional fee for &uot;public work,&uot; ranging from $50 to $60, depending on the size of the quilt.

No one quibbles about the cost, however. Having a quilt hand-sewn by folks right here in the USA seems very appealing to those tired of machine-made imports sewn by anonymous faces.

Their hand-stitched quilts have traveled across the state, the country and even overseas, the Honoraville quilters say.

This group of silver-haired ladies would like to see more young people get involved in this centuries-old practice.

&uot;There are a lot of young people who want to learn how to quilt. Once they try it, they really like it,&uot; Sexton says.

&uot;There really isn’t a lot to quilting the way some folks think there is. It’s a lot like milking a cow or learning to ride a bicycle; once you learn how, you won’t ever forget,&uot; Duncan adds.

There is good news for those in the Greenville area who want to learn to quilt. Mary Braden, senior services director for the City of Greenville, says quilting classes will be offered (time and date to be announced later) through the Camellia Senior Center this fall.

&uot;It’s a wonderful art and we don’t want to see it die out,&uot; Braden says.

A scrap of quilting histosy

How did quilting begin? Long before the colorful, padded creations that warm our beds and brighten our homes came into being, quilting techniques were used to make padded leather or linen items worn beneath medieval armor. It was a popular technique used in making clothing for the wealthy as well.

During the colonial and pioneer days of America, a phenomenon known as the &uot;quilting bee&uot; became very widespread. Those frontier ladies would spend the long winter nights hand-piecing their quilt tops together after choosing the designs. Would it be &uot;The Rose of Sharon,&uot; &uot;Star of Bethlehem,&uot; &uot;Tree of Life,&uot; or some other pattern?

Each would put her ingenuity to work sitting alone in front of the fire, as most homes were too small and poorly heated to even consider putting up a quilting frame during the winter months, with everyone crowded indoors.

When warmer weather finally arrived, the call went out: time for a quilting bee!

Far-flung neighbors would arrive at their hostess’s home to gather around a quilting frame. At larger bees, several frames would be set up and a number of quilts would often be completed in a single day.

The ladies got caught up on the news as they stitched, and in the evening, the men folk joined them for dinner and square dancing. The bee was an eagerly awaited social occasion – and if you weren’t there, it could be you that ended up the subject of gossip!

Quilts for a cause

Quilts were used to raise money for both North and South during the Civil War years. They were hung on lines to signify a safe stop on the Underground Railroad.

Quilts were made for soldiers during both WW I and WW II, and sent by the thousands through the United Nations and the Red Cross to war-torn Europe.

Even today, women soldiers in the Gulf, and their family members back home, have been known to pick up needle and thread in the age-old way to pass quiet moments in a constructive way.

Today, quilts are often used as a means to raise money for deserving causes, just as the Greenville Senior Center is doing by raffling off the queen-sized quilt.

The local YMCA is currently raffling off a lovely red, green and white watermelon quilt as part of their Watermelon Jubilee this weekend.

The monies made by the sale of quilts in Honoraville allow everyone at their senior center to enjoy regular &uot;Friday nights out&uot; at area restaurants.

To learn more about the quilting programs, contact Shirley Goodwin in Honoraville at 382-6449 or Cathy Brown at 382-6005. For more information about the upcoming quilting classes, contact Mary Braden at 382-5670.