Pike County quilters stitch homage to underground railroad with project
Judy Colbert, left, sews a patch while Gail Heyer measures fabric at the Underground Railroad quilting class at the First Christian Church in Louisiana.
Inspired by a presentation on the Underground Railroad in Louisiana and a love of sewing, a group of women are making an historic-styled quilt in a monthly Louisiana class.
The Underground Railroad Quilting class began with former home economic teacher and Pike County resident Helen Crew. Crew was at the Louisiana Area Historical Museum fall dinner, where she heard the story of Underground Railroad quilts from story teller W.T. Johnson of Hannibal.
Johnson tells the tale of slaves who used signs sewn into quilt blocks to tell them what to do on the next leg of their journey to freedom. Although the quilt tale is disputed by some, others think it is a viable part of American history.
Crew was taught sewing by her mother, then Suzy Brown, now Suzy Sheehan, when Crew was growing up near Vera.
Crew made the quilt Johnson used in his performance and decided to pursue it further.
“The museum said they wanted one for the display at the play,” Crew said at the quilt-making class on Saturday, Feb. 8. “I’m also on the outreach committee of the First Christian Church (of Louisiana) and I thought it would a good gift for the community.”
Crew then began the class that meets from 9 a.m. to noon every second Saturday at the church’s fellowship hall to make a second Underground Railroad quilt.
“We’re doing the Monkey Wrench block today,” Crew said. “It represents telling the slaves to get their tools together to bring on the journey.”
The tools would be for constructing shelters and protection,” Crew said. “Each block represents something to them.”
Last month, the group did the Jacob’s Ladder block, believed to “tell them which way to go,” Crew said. “Next month we’ll do the Wagon Wheel that tells them to pack provisions for a wagon.
“It represents the chariot to take them home and inspired the song “ ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,’ ” Crew said.
In the class, Crew strolls around members doing various sections of the Monkey Wrench block. Crew offers instruction and gives them ideas on how to complete them.
Class members bring their own fabrics, sewing machines and supplies to the class but everything else is free.
Novice quilter Gail Heyer of Eolia and experience quilter Judy Colbert of Clarksville were busy cutting strips of cloth to make their block.
“This a real goof learning environment,” Colbert said. “It’s nice to be able to get your questions answered here.”
“It’s relaxing and enjoyable,” Colbert said. “I like working with fabric. Every artist has their own medium, clay, or paint of whatever. Fabric is my medium.”
Julia Branstetter of Bowling Green and Mary Scherder of Louisiana shared a table to make their block.
“This is my first quilt,” Branstetter said. “I love it. This is very rewarding and it’s pretty difficult. They say this one’s easy but it’s intermediate to hard.
“I think quilting is kind of a lost art but there are people doing it,” Scherder said.
Denise Bovee and Debbie Crew are Crew’s daughters who came from Iowa to make a Monkey Wrench block.
“We thought we’d get together with mom to make this and it’s been a learning experience,” Debbie Crew said. “It’s a real challenge.”
Crew said when the group is done with their blocks, they will do some “long-arm quilting,” and sew them together in her home for the final quilt.
“That way they’ll get the whole experience of quilting,” Crew said.
To join the class or for more information, call Crew at 573-324-3055.