‘No quilt is ever the same’

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ann Howell works diligently on a quilt at the Atmore Friendship Quilting Club.

There is a brown piano and the music desk holds an open hymnal inside of a small, quaint, old house that is located just off Alabama 21.

But it is not the piano that takes center stage. It is the quilts.

While women gather to make quilts by hand, like the piano, there is much more going on than just quilting.

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On this particular day, there are nine women in attendance, constantly quilting, joking and sharing stories.

The Friendship Quilting Club, which meets regularly a few times in the morning each week, has a steady group of regulars but would love to add more members to the fold.

“We would welcome anybody, even learners because quilting is almost a lost art,” member Marie Owens says while looking up momentarily from quilting. “We’d like to have someone new. Right now, we’ve got a good crowd and we’re gonna’ be real good to ‘em so they’ll come back,” she jokes.

According to Owens, the City of Atmore furnished the house where the Friendship Quilting Club meets. The city even found a way to help spruce up the house recently.

“They’ve reworked it and it’s just a different place,” Owens says, her eyes scanning the length of the house.
Before long, the conversation shifts to other things.

“She was one dear friend in a hurry,” Mearl Bishop says, steadily quilting while doing so. “You would’ve thought you knew her all your life.”

While the group’s friend was only here a brief time, a matter of months, and she has moved far off to Pennsylvania, her friendship is still remembered by the group.

The group also doesn’t forget special occasions. It is not Thelma Albert’s actual birthday on this day, but with her birthday later in the week, the group reminds her of her birthday and promise to celebrate the occasion today.

According to Regina Gohagan, the Friendship Quilting Club first began in 1975 under the Mayorship of Orrin Davis.

“It started as just a small gathering and it was arts and crafts with some quilting,” Gohagan says over the phone. “Now, it’s full quilting.”
The ladies of the club are curious themselves.

“I’ve been here 25 years and I can’t remember,” Owens says with some disappointment.

But this is a good opportunity for them to recall things of the club they do remember.

“There used to be quite a few and they would cook meals,” member Jean Myrick recalls. “They would just have some big meals here. There was some real enjoyment here.”

“Jean’s mother could cook just about the best cabbage you put in your mouth,” Owens adds.

While they’re on the subject of food, Owens remembers a time when they put their culinary skills to good use for others.

“We baked pies and took them to the nursing home, and that was one of the most rewarding things we’ve done,” she says pleasantly.
Later, the conversation turns towards how things have changed.

“I’m too old for changes,” Owens jokes.

But changes affect everyone, for better or for worse.

The group’s senior member Ann Howell used to make large quilts on her own, but now she makes mostly wall hangings. She also no longer drives, but her friends and family driver her here. Howell is 97 years old, but she began quilting at a very young age.

“I lived out in the country and there was a bunch of ladies that would get together and quilt,” she recalls. “They must have let me play around with it when I was around 12.”

Of the hundreds of quilts she’s made over the years, her proudest accomplishment is something she started late in her quilting career.

“One thing I’m proud of is in my 80s, I started counted cross-stitch,” she says plainly. “It’s a smaller stitch. They’re just the prettiest. Somebody came in one time and asked me if it was an oil painting.”

Whenever special occasions arose in her family, Howell had a hand-stitched quilt representing hours of tireless craftsmanship to present.

“When the children got married, I’d give them a quilt,” Howell recalls. “When the baby came along, I’d give them a quilt and then the grandchildren and so on. Now, all the greats and grands are all getting quilts and that’s a lot of stitching.”

Asked why she loves quilting so much, Howell finds it hard to explain. Her attempt to explain it is plainly spoken.

“No quilt is ever the same,” she says.