Meet the Piecemakers
OXFORD CRAFTSWOMEN SERVE A LOCAL AND GLOBAL COMMUNITY THROUGH QUILTING.
WRITTEN BY CAROLINE HELLER
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM
If you are interested in learning how to sew a “Drunkard’s Path,” a “Card Trick” or a “Trip Around the World,” the Piecemakers Quilt Guild of Oxford is ready and willing to help you get started.
The guild meets at 10:30 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall at the First Presbyterian Church on the second Saturday of each month. It maintains a well-stocked library of quilt patterns, fabrics and books, and is open to newcomers as well as seasoned quilters.
“Most sewing guilds have very strenuous requirements for admission,” founding member Ann O’Dell said. “But our guild has no membership requirements, just an interest in any kind of handwork. The beauty of this group, besides the fact that we care so much for each other and are so applauding at each other’s projects, is that we help each other solve problems.”
“We welcome members who have never done quilting and make up little beginner packets to show them,” said guild president Deborah Robinson.
Since 1991, the Piecemakers have brought together a community of quilters as diverse and colorful as the quilts themselves. The guild connects local and international groups by helping each other improve in the art and techniques of hand and machine quilting. To foster these skills and a knowledge of quilt history, the Piecemakers host workshops and show-and-tells.
In keeping with its founding idea of serving local and global communities, the guild has benefited the victims of the tsunami in Japan, raised money for the recipients of Living Waters for the World water purification installations and sponsored a mission trip to Jamaica.
Members have also used their prodigious skills to support programs in Oxford and surrounding areas. The guild is currently making isolette quilts for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital in Tupelo.
“They’ll use the quilts to cover the top of the isolettes, because the babies are in a very sterile environment with all the fluorescent light,” Robinson said. “The quilts help to protect their eyes and give them that darker environment that they need. When they can transition out of the incubator, the quilts can be used in a crib, or the moms and dads can have their baby in their laps with the quilts.”
The guild shares stories and history in its projects, show-and-tells, workshops and exhibitions. Members have created faith-themed quilts, such as “Women in the Bible,” and a “Noah’s Ark” quilt was gifted to the First Presbyterian Church’s secretary.
O’Dell and fellow guild member Mary Lou Owens, who both worked at the University of Mississippi, organized the creation of a quilt commemorating the university’s sesquicentennial in 1999. The quilt, which hangs on the third floor of the Lyceum, is made up of blocks representing the university’s different schools, the medical center in Jackson, the Square and the Grove.
“Because the Grove is such a big image for anyone who has ever been to Ole Miss, we put a “Tree of Life” in each of the four corners,” O’Dell said. “We let people from all over the state know that this was in the making and that anybody who wanted to make a quilt block could write in and say whether they were beginners, intermediate or advanced, and we sent them a pattern and fabric.”
In 2011, the Piecemakers sponsored the show “Celebrating Lafayette County: African American Quilts,” in collaboration with the University of Mississippi Museum’s exhibition of African American art historical quilts created in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. In the guild-sponsored show, black women of Lafayette County shared the rich history of their quilts, which, like the Gee’s Bend Quilts, often displayed the women’s ingenuity as they improvised with available resources to create quilts that were both functional and works of art.
Guild member Jane Thomas recalled one quilter’s modern interpretation of African American quilt making.
“A lady in the Mississippi Quilt Association was doing quilts related to the blues, and she did a program for us,” Thomas said. “Some of the fabric she would stain with rust. And to me that is original.”
A mix of originality, family tradition and wit can be found in Owens’ story about an old, battered quilt her husband had picked the backing for when he was a boy.
“Well, when I got into quilting, I thought it would be fun for me to reproduce this quilt,” Owens said. “So I looked the pattern up in a book, and it was called ‘Little Boy’s Britches.’ I found some fabric that kind of … had an old look to it, and I matched everything the best I could and made it. Then I found a backing that was pretty near what he had. He had picked it out because it reminded him of olives as a child. I made (the quilt), and I named it ‘Old Man’s Pants.’”