A piece of history

Published 12:58 pm Monday, November 17, 2003

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Atmore goes back in time.
Well, at least in the little white building on the edge of Oak Hill Cemetery.
That is where the friendship club quilters gather, to stitch and talk.
Large frames are suspended from the ceiling, and across the frames are stretched the quilts being stitched.
A quilt is made of several components. The top is the part that is, well, on top, and it is pieced into a pattern, either by hand or machine. Next comes the filling or batting, which can be in any of several thicknesses. That is what provides the warmth. The backing is usually a solid piece of fabric that laps around to the front, finishing the pattern.
Those parts are provided by the maker of the quilt.
But the parts have to be connected together, and that is where the quilters come in.
Quilting is the stitching together of the layers, and it often also follows a pattern, although it may follow the pattern of the pieced top.
Hand stitching of quilts is an art that was in danger of being lost, but in recent years it has been rediscovered and is highly valued now.
As if to prove it, the friendship club has no shortage of clients.
It takes about 3-4 weeks to complete the work according to Marie Owens, who stitched on a quilt with a pattern of store-bought, printed blocks as she talked.
"It depends on how many works on it," she said. "Four to a quilt's about all you can get, because then everybody's elbows get in the way."
But getting four to a quilt can be tough. Membership is the biggest challenge facing the club, which has met for so long that Jean Myrick said, "My mother used to come here and quilt." The club started when Orris Davis was mayor of Atmore and back then the women were paid to keep it going. All that has changed over the years.
"We'd love to have some more members," Owens said. "Especially younger members. Just knock on that door, and they'll be welcome. This is a friendship club, there are no fees or dues."
Anne Howell, at 88, was the oldest member in the clubhouse on this brisk day. She has been quilting – both piecing and actual quilting – since she was a teen-ager. She has made so many quilts over the years that she was the subject of a one woman show about two years ago, with around 200 quilts that she had made displayed, many by owners who had heard of the event and brought the quilts for display.
Howell said quilting or sewing skills are not needed for membership.
"If they don't know how, we'll be glad to teach them," she said.
She never has grown tired of the tiny stitches her needle still takes with great precision.
"I still enjoy it," she said.
With that, the women begin talking of their own projects. Each of them pieces quilts for herself, as well as working on the club projects for the public.
It was different when there were more members, Owens recalls.
"We used to have lunch here, and we did a lot of cooking, too," she said of the building supplied by the city. "But now it's just easier to have a sandwich."
But the members have a lot of fun together. They often go to Mobile or other towns in the area, eating lunch together and shopping for supplies, both for the club and for their own projects.
And so it is on this day. Geneva Warren is getting ready to take the five members and herself over to Mobile.
The ladies rinse out their coffee cups and start putting away their supplies.
There is still a sense of timelessness about the place, and the work that the women do, as well as the pieces they work on. It is an art that is far older than the oldest member here.
Maybe that is what keeps them working on the creations, knowing that they are becoming part of a family history in some small way.
The history is in some very talented, capable hands.

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