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8 quilters, age 71-82, help their church grow

ANDALUSIA, Ala. (BP)–It could be among the longest-running quilting bees on record.

During the last decade, eight “quilting queens” at Southside Baptist Church in Andalusia, Ala., have turned their favorite pastime into a moneymaking project netting $16,594 for the building projects of their beloved church.

And these “golden girls” — ranging in age from 71 to 82 — can stitch a serious quilt, evidenced by the thousands of stitches each has contributed to the 210 quilts they have produced.

The women have a room in the Sunday School wing of the church where they keep their quilts set up and do the ongoing work.

They meet two days a week for more than four hours for their labor of love.

“About half the church ladies wanted to help, but when they found out how much work it was they began to drop out real fast,” said quilter Caudy Faye Patterson.

In addition to Patterson, the other quilting all-stars are Loyette Stephens, Alma Johnson, Montez Turner, Mary Wishum, Nan Powell, Mae Turner and Hazel Jordan.

All the quilters except Jordan have been on the team since its inception in 1992. Jordan joined in 1993.

When the women began making their first quilt, Southside members and some of their extended families living in other states — as far away as New York and California — heard about the undertaking.

People then began sending money to help with the quilt, raising $1,200.

That was the first donation to the building fund in October 1992 for Southside’s soon-to-be-new church on the nine-plus acres at 1213 Bypass West.

The church was moving from Carlton Street in Andalusia to its new location to accommodate an expanded membership and promote further growth.

Today the 600-member church is under the leadership of pastor Gary Miller.

When the church moved into the larger facilities, first in 1993 when the education building was finished and later when the total building project was completed in 1997, it boosted the resolve of the quilters.

“We’ve got the building paid for now, but we still put our money in the building fund, ’cause they’re going to build something else — they never stop around here,” Patterson jokingly said.

So today, individuals or businesses pay the women to make quilts for them.

People bring in their quilt tops, and the quilters do the rest by hand, sewing the decorative cloth squares onto backing with batting (polyester or cotton fiber fill) in between.

The ladies have quilted such things as logos cut out from children’s T-shirts to decorative shapes such as stars.

They have also worked with delicate 100-year-old fabrics.

“Sometimes we get something made so long ago that it is made out of feed sacks, and that kind of stuff quilts good,” Patterson said.

Some quilt tops have old, worn or torn places in them, so the women have to find and slip a small piece of material underneath and between the backing and filling to patch it.

“You’d be surprised at how well it turns out,” Mary Wishum said.

“We did one not long ago that looked terrible, but after we got it quilted, it looked just fine,” she said.

“One time, a lady wanted a quilt made with pieces of her grandchild’s T shirts, the fronts of which had been cut out into squares, each having a design on it,” Montez Turner said. “It turned out to be a pretty one.”

Loyette Stephens said the time the women spend quilting each week provides much more than money for the church.

It also provides the women with the opportunity for good conversation among themselves and with occasional visitors, such as deacons and church staff members.

“Lots of us wouldn’t get out of the house otherwise, but we get up on Monday and Tuesday and come down here, and we enjoy it,” Patterson said.

“I used to quilt at home, then I went to work and didn’t quilt anymore until I retired,” Stephens said. Quilting at the church gave her the chance to reclaim her quilting skills. And 10 years later, she continues sharpening those skills.

The women try to finish quilting around noon or when their appetites tell them it’s time for lunch.

Two of the quilters, sisters Nan Powell and Mary Wishum, are two of the only three living charter members of the church.

The other charter member, Dalton Barton, said the church has approved yet another construction project — a multipurpose center. But this news doesn’t faze the quilters — they’ll just keep stitching away to help grow their church.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: A STITCH IN TIME and QUILTING STARS.

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  • Anthony Wade