I always considered sewing a solitary endeavor.
Shows you what I know.
In my mind I see mom, a lone figure in a corner downstairs, sewing late into the night.
(Hey, was this her “me” time? Because I’ve since discovered she taught more than one granddaughter the skill, but she never really instructed myself or my sister. But I digress.)
Anyway, that was my assumption until a couple weeks ago, when I met the women – and one male – getting together for the weekly meetup of the Needles And Threads Quilters Guild.
Started in 1992, the group began with quilting before eventually branching off into making dolls, doing embroidery, crocheting – anything that involved a needle and thread. They gather in a cheerful room with lots of windows at Fernwood Park in Washington Heights, one of those places unfairly tarnished by the violence that mars their neighborhood. (Oops, digressing again.)
There are no sewing machines in that room until they arrive. Everyone brings their own. You could say their motto is: have sewing machine, will travel.
Spend time with the group and it’s obvious why everyone’s more than willing to pack up their machines and show up. For one, those who sew like to share expertise, says Anita Scott, president of the Guild. If you want to learn something new, there’s always someone who has that skill and is ready to guide you along.
Newcomers are encouraged to come by, and the group always has a kit ready to get a person started. At one time even the most skilled in this room were new to the craft and fondly remember advice and encouragement they received. Scott herself wasn’t into sewing but was intrigued by quilting and vowed: I might not have the time to sew now, but when I do, I am going to learn.
Once she retired she did just that.
When you’re sewing in this group, there’s always someone to share a conversation. Sometimes, says Scott, a person will come by not to sew, but to sit and catch up with the others. They might not have all know one another before, but like the squares on a quilt they are connected now.
And if you’re sewing alone at home, who’s there to appreciate when a long and involved project finally is completed? The day I visited, Sheila McPhane unfurled and showed the quilt she’d been working on intermittently for a couple of years. African-inspired squares sit in the middle of a golden yellow background of a California king-size quilt. At that size it really wouldn’t do such creativity justice to have just one set of hands unfurl it to show what will be going to its new owners. It works better when a group is holding the edges and offering words of praise and support. (There’s that connection again.)
Such talent should be shared, the group believes. And so a few times a year they make blankets for the premature babies born at Stroger Hospital and pillowcases for patients at La Rabida Children’s Hospital. A chart on the wall reminds how many were made the previous year and motivates them to make more during the current year.
How nice it must feel for a family whose child is facing health challenges to get those homemade items, to know someone out there cares.
Warms the group’s collective soul, too. “It always feels good to give back,” says LaSheral Smith as she works on one of the baby blankets.
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