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Enduring Friendships Over A Quilt Frame – Around The Frame

It’s always a pleasure to welcome new customers to Born Again Quilts. I never get tired of reading the expressions on people’s faces when they slowly take it all in and realize this isn’t your “normal” quilt shop. A few Saturdays ago, I welcomed Bertha McLemore and Jacquei Seals fresh from a Sisters of the Cloth Quilt Guild meeting. Guild member Sandi Brothers had recently visited BAQ and highly recommended that the members take the time to experience it. Both Bertha and Jacquei took their time making their way to the back through the aisles of tables and racks feeling fabrics and taking in all that BAQ had to offer. When I mentioned there were pots of remnants at $2.50 a Kroger bag, 87-years-young Bertha really lit up and made a beeline to them. What I very quickly found out is Bertha is the queen of collecting itsy bitsy pieces of fabric.

Bertha was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother took on sewing and as a teen, Bertha would collect the scraps and create doll bed size quilts from them. In her late ‘20s and divorced Bertha moved to Fort Wayne to live with her older sister Louise to seek better employment opportunities. She lived with her until she was hired at GE to assemble refrigerator motors in 1966 and was working in the aircraft department when she retired in 1995.

Now you may be aware of the Bowling Alley at the GE Recreation Center located on the West side of the Broadway GE plant, but there was more than bowling going on there. Upstairs a group of GE women started a monthly quilt club around 1970. Now Bertha knew how to hand sew, but she had never learned to hand quilt. Bertha eagerly joined the group and was soon hand quilting basic quilt blocks comprised of squares and triangles and half-triangles out of bits of scraps under the direction of the teacher Joyce Griffiths. One of the members provided a large quilt frame that they could sit around and learn the technique of hand quilting on one of the member’s quilts. Bertha made a hand pieced Friendship Knot scrap quilt top in the 1990s out of her two favorite colors peaches and green that she machine pieced and was hand quilted by her GE coworker Judy Miracle. Sitting around the frame the quilters would talk “quiltshop”, work, raising kids and sharing milestones both happy and sad. Several years later the sad day came when the GE Officials gave the group notice that the space was needed for another purpose, and they would need to disband.

Some of the GE quilt members had already started their own quilt club, The Star Quilters. Members met in each other’s homes to learn new patterns and techniques and show their work. Since they rotated homes, the quilter who would host the Christmas gathering was most appreciated. Bertha was an active member and today occasionally attends a meeting.

In 1999 The Sisters of the Cloth Quilt Guild was organized with the motto “Each one Teach one”. Bertha was a founding member, and she took the motto to heart. She enjoyed helping inexperienced quilters hone their quilting skills and making certain that if the work was not done properly, that the stitches were removed and redone until they were satisfactory. As Bertha was fond of saying, “If you’re going to put all that effort into it: do it right!”

Now in her twilight years, Bertha estimates she has made about 15 bed size quilts and numerous baby quilts for family and her friends’ young ones. Now when she looks at her Friendship Knot quilt, she is reminded of the women, some living others deceased, who not only shared their fabrics scraps with her, but intertwined their lives with her life around the frame so many decades ago.

Lois Levihn

She is the author of the "Around the Frame" quilting column. She is a graduate of Wayne HS. Quilts have always been important to her, she loves the stories surrounding them, the techniques used in making them, & restoring them. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer