Quilting for a charitable cause

All afternoon, Pamela Wexler and Lorna Spence-Ellis “tied” the quilt, attaching at intervals the three layers, back, batting and top.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

The multi-purpose sanctuary of Church of the Holy Apostle in Manhattan was humming with activity — it was a modern day quilting bee. Groups of women and one man sat at circular tables in the hall, needles in hand stitching or knotting hand-made quilts of all sizes destined for others.

On Saturday, March 12, 80 quilts were finished during the Empire Quilters Guild’s annual charity quilting day. From crib quilts to toddler and camp-bed size and larger quilts, the colorfully patterned, practical works of art will go to a variety of non-profits that serve the homeless, patients in hospitals, vets, domestic violence survivors and others in need of care and comfort.

A lot of the recipients are moved by this gift made with so much love. “It brings joy,” says guild member Beverly Cheuvront.

Guild members come from all walks of life, the financial world, teachers, doctors, high stress jobs and more routine, those in the workforce and retirees. The artistic and craft challenges are inspiring and challenging. The camaraderie among members adds to many who glow when talking about quilting and the guild’s monthly meetings — the second Saturday of each month at Holy Apostle.

Jamaica-born Lorna Spence-Ellis has been a guild member for 10 years. “I’ve always been a sewer,” she said, introduced to sewing in primary school in the northeastern coastal Portland Parish in Jamaica. As a life-long seamstress, she sewed dresses for her daughters and herself and shirts for her husband.

Inspired by a quilt show held in the 1980s, decades passed before she finally had time to begin to quilt.

Spence-Ellis worked alongside Pamela Wexler who dedicated almost five months designing and sewing a full-size traditional scrappy nine-patch top as a charity quilt.

“Quilters are the ultimate upcyclers,” says Wexler, who is so proud that her beautiful design was made from leftover end pieces and other donated fabric. The two spent the entire afternoon “tying” — a quilting technique to attach by knotting together at intervals the quilt’s three layers–the back, the batting and the top.

Taking a break, Spence-Ellis brought out her Ipad to show off a 24-inch square art quilt she previously made entitled: “Wash Day,” which depicts life in the Caribbean — washing clothes at the river.

Floraminda Balmaseda from Puerto Rico, a retired teacher, started taking quilting classes provided by the teacher’s union 13 years ago and is now known for her yo-yo–three dimensional circles–technique.

Her award winning quilts are all hand-quilted. “I love participating in charity day,” she said. “All the quilts are going to people who really need the warmth and feeling these provide.” And with needle and thread in hand she continued, “And, I like meeting my friends.”

At another table, as guild members chatted and sewed, Bronx resident Carolyn Berry summed it up, “It’s a stress-free way to do good work.”

Many of the members belong to more than one guild. Retired teachers, two sisters, brought their machines and sewed patches for tops during the day. Sandi Howell from Parkchester, Bronx is also the president of Quilters of Color. “We meet at Fulton Houses every fourth Saturday, she said of the smaller, more intimate quilting guild.

Tequila Minsky

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