Quilters keep past alive stitch by stitch
By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Oct. 3, 2011 at 5:03 a.m.
Needles gleamed silver as the women stabbed them through the thick cloth of the quilt with deft fingers.
Clustered around their brightly colored creation, the women of the Quilters and Crafters group laughed and talked as they do every Wednesday.
For about a dozen women, quilting day is sacred. They put off the doctor appointments, the family visits and all the rest of life's daily chores to gather here in the Victoria County Senior Citizens Center once a week and quilt, telling stories and sharing jokes the way their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers did before them.
No one is sure how long the group has been meeting, but Mary Kliem has been running the group for the past 13 years.
Throughout the day, Kliem takes breaks from her own sewing to patrol the room, her eyes sliding over the neat stitches, checking on the newer members to see if they need any help. She gives the quilters their space, but she'll inspect the day's stitching on each quilt before putting them away for next week.
"It's become a lost art. People don't learn to quilt anymore, and think it's too complicated, but it's simply a small straight stitch," she said.
Kliem and her brothers and sisters grew up during the Great Depression and the shortages caused by World War II. Kliem scampered to school in dresses made of chicken feed sacks - some of the only material available at the time - and her mother saved every scrap of cloth in the house to piece together the blankets that kept them warm at night.
"You thought you'd get away with playing on a rainy day, but it was time to quilt," Kliem said, smiling at the memory. "It was fun, though. We'd sit sewing, talking, arguing a bit," Kliem said.
They lived in the country, and their house wasn't heated, so the children snuggled together and piled quilts on their beds to keep warm.
"We had all these beds to cover, and we made the quilts for all of them," Kliem said.
They keep the dying art alive in this room - the darting needles and sly conversation are scenes they are all familiar with from their own childhoods.
Irene Brosch grew up in Moulton, longing to join the quilting circle that gathered in her mother's house, but was told she was too young.
"They had me thread the needles instead, that was my job," Brosch said, with an impish grin.
She learned though, and when she married, the quilting group worked together helping her sew a multi-colored ribbon quilt that was spread on the bed in her new home.
On cold nights, June Wilborn's mother would appear in the room, dropping yet another quilt on the bed.
"We would be so warm. My mother would play the piano in the evening. It gave me the most secure feeling," Wilborn said, as her fingers drew pink through the blue and white patterned quilt in small, even stitches.
Mary Mlcak learned to sew from her mother, but she never got the chance to quilt until she joined the group five years ago.
"I would ask my mother if I could work on one of her quilts, but she would hand me a scrap and tell me to practice," Mlcak said.
After moving to Victoria, Mlcak discovered the quilting group and finally got the chance to learn.
They talk about everything while they work.
"We don't really bring up the bad things - the doctor's appointments, the illnesses - but we know what is going on with each other," Wilborn said.
"If not, we make it known," Mlcak replied.
The group is already busily preparing for their Christmas sale on Nov. 19. The money raised goes to support the senior center, Kliem said.
The group used to be a larger gathering with more than 40 women meeting to sew quilts and make handicrafts to put in the Senior Center Store. They're hoping more will join the group again.
"You meet people and make friends. It's so much fun," Kliem said.