Verna Coleman, Bev Stacey, Delores Pattee, Ann Busby, and Mariann Fuehr call themselves the five musketeers. The five women gather Monday and Wednesday mornings at the Centralia Salvation Army to quilt, with a common aim to preserve the history of hand quilting and to help the Salvation Army.
The quilting group is a part of Home League, which is a part of the Salvation Army church. The women charge seventy-five cents per yard of thread used to quilt and when they are done, all earnings are given to the Salvation Army. Verna shares, “We are all volunteers here.”
Quilting circles are a precious part of history. Ann says, “All the women would come together and quilt until that quilt was done, then they’d move on and help someone else.” Quilting circles brought communities of women together and Mariann shares, “I think the fascinating part is getting into the mind of the original creators and understanding the economy of the time. They didn’t go and buy fabric. They used what they had, reused scraps or old clothes.”
Currently the five musketeers are finishing a quilt that was originally started in 1935. The quilt was discovered in an attic and the owner brought it to the quilting group for it to be completed. The women know that the friendship quilt was originally made as a wedding gift from women of the church to the bride. Each quilt square is embroidered with the name of the person who made that particular square.
Ann says, “This quilt is a treasure. People have these things and don’t think much of it. They are tucked away in attics and they are treasures.”
The women work together to painstakingly, and lovingly, hand stitch each quilt that they touch. The original quilts are beautiful, but the tender handiwork that these women put into each quilt adds another layer of love.
“Hand quilting is so much more beautiful, I think. And older quilts need hand quilting,” Delores shares. Hand quilting is a labor of love and craft, but it also has practical roots. Delores adds, “Hand quilting helps to add structure to the quilt and helps it last.”
On average, each quilt may take three to four months to complete, depending on the size and intricacy of the quilt. Delores says, “Salvaging our history is valuable. Quilt lovers have to protect their quilts.”
Bev shares, “The Salvation Army has always had ladies who’ve quilted for them.” Quilting is a craft that reaches across generations, past to the present. Although the ladies are working to benefit the Salvation Army, their time with each other is about fellowship and friendship.
Delores shares, “We do have a good time when we’re here. That’s why we keep coming back.” Verna adds with a smile, “I always say—what happens at quilting, stays at quilting.” I can say that the five musketeers talk about everything from sports news to politics to television series, but I have been sworn to secrecy about the contents of their conversations.
With the exception of Delores, each of the current members was introduced to the group by a previous member. She shares, “I was very bold and I just walked in and asked if they could use another quilter.”
May Parkin, a previous volunteer in the quilting group, has been responsible for bringing in a couple of the current members. And May’s time within the group is that of legend. Ann shares that May is about to celebrate her 98th birthday. Ann explains, “May quilted here until she was 95. Everything she does is full speed ahead!”
These women work as a team and as friends, lending each other quilting tips, support and friendship throughout each of their lives outside of the quilting circle. Verna shares, “I live for quilting. I have to quilt. I say that I have quilting on Wednesday and church on Sunday.”
The money that is donated to the quilters goes directly back to the Centralia Salvation Army. This ensures that the work these women are doing benefits our local community in more than one way. Mariann says, “The Salvation Army is critical to this community. It is a system of service that this community really needs.”
“We donate our time because we want to,” Ann adds. “In a small community relationships are built up and with this we are providing a service. Normally this quilt would just sit.”
The careful, artful hand stitching is a testament to the love these women have for our local community. Bev shares, “We like our small town. We like on another and we feel good doing this.”
Ann says, “The way people hear about us is mostly by word of mouth. If someone wants to contact us, they should call the Salvation Army and we’ll get the message.”
As the women put away their needles and thread for the day, Bev reviews their work and says, “I just wish this quilt could talk.”