A quilt commemorating African-American history in Dauphin County is being created by the African American Quilters Gathering Harrisburg (AAQGH), in collaboration with local historian Calobe Jackson. The quilt will honor the U.S. Colored Troops and Underground Railroad, along with more contemporary events such as development of Hamilton Health Center in 1969 by Claude Nichols, and C. Dolores Tucker, the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State. The quilt will debut in October 2015.
Legend has it that enslaved Africans running to freedom through the Underground Railroad used to look for North Star quilts on the clothes lines of sympathetic Northerners.
When the center of the quilt was black, the enslaved Africans knew they had found someone who would defy the fugitive slave law and hide them as they headed toward Canada--and freedom.
Today quilting brings African Americans different freedoms--freedom of creation, freedom of expression, and freedom of relaxation.
The African American Quilters Gathering Harrisburg knows these freedoms well.
The 26 member group, which formed in October 2009, meets 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the forth Saturday of every month except December in the basement of the East Shore Area Library in Colonial Park.
On September 16, 2012, members will display their quilts from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn during Fort Hunter Day.
Quilting is a tradition of African American women, " the group's convener, Carol Spigner, said. "Enslaved Africans made scrap quilts to keep themselves warm."
Among the enslaved Africans, the log cabin pattern was popular because many lived in log cabins when they were brought from Africa. Frequently, enslaved Africans made fancy quilts for their owners and more Utilitarian quilts for themselves. They used leftover clothing scraps when material was a precious commodity.
The creations of the African American Quilters Gathering Harrisburg bear no resemblance to traditional Amish and Mennonite quilts with pronounced color schemes, precise repeated patterns, and orderly quilting stitches.
Instead, many of this group's quilts use bright colors, symbolic forms, multiple patterns, large design elements, and stitches of all sizes to tell their stories. Yet, despite, or maybe because of their vividness, these quilts speak to their viewers.
On a recent Saturday, the quilters filled the East Shore Library basement room, the buzz of their sewing machines mingling with friendly chatter and laughter.
Some cut fabric with rotary cutters resembling pizza cutters. Some pinned and sewed the fabric into strips and other forms before attaching it to their quilts in the works. Others hand sewed binding on their nearly completed quilts.
As they turned the colorful fabric into works of art, many reflected on the quilt recipients.
Barbara Barnes of Harrisburg, who has made more than 20 quilts, thought about a friend who recently had surgery.
"I have pink ribbons of hope throughout this quilt," she said of her rail fence quilt. "I want this quilt to encourage my friend to keep up the fight against cancer."
Narda LeCadre of Pennbrook used fabric depicting french fries, pizza, watermelon, hot chocolate, hamburgers, and hot peppers for a "chef" quilt for her son, who is a chef. Some quilters joked that just looking at Narda's quilt made them hungry.
Elizabeth Carter of Susquehanna Township made a "symphony" quilt for her sister.
"Quilting relaxes me," Elizabeth said. "I wish I could spend more time quilting."
Some women made "Take 5" quilts, named because the quilter selects 5 fabrics, stacks and cuts the fabrics simultaneously, and afterwards sews the quilt top in five hours.
Bobbie Howard of Harrisburg used vivid shades of purple, green, daffodill yellow, and rose in her "Take 5" quilt.
Cindy Shields of Bressler said, "Take 5" quilts are easy and relaxing to make.
One of the most experienced quilters, Gloria Johnson of Susquehanna Township, made a lap quilt in shades of dark purple, violet, and lilac.
"I've been quilting since 1977," Gloria said. "I used to quilt by hand and now I quilt on machine."
Gloria once won first prize for a quilt she entered in the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Ann Smyser of Mechanicsburg sat quietly quilting. Ann, a quilter for more than 15 years, said she joined the African American Quilters Group Harrisburg "because it's such a joyous group."
That joy, like the quilts themselves, warms the hearts of quilters and people admiring their work.
By Mary Klaus, The Patriot News, Sunday, September 9, 2012
The AAQGH Weekend Retreat at the Philip Bongiorno Conference Center in Carlisle, PA was a lot of fun and a huge success thanks to Alora and the committee! It began at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 8, 2012 and ended at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 10, 2012. A total of 13 people participated including: Barbara, Elizabeth, Marie, Bobbie, Gloria, Narda, Rosanne, Cheryl, Vivian, Cindy, Ann, Carol, and Rona. Everyone was creative and willing to provide a helping hand and we all learned something new about each other, unique ways of using color and technique, short cuts, ideas for future projects, etc. The company was great, the facility was nice, and the food was good. There were lots of laughs too and we will all remember Barbara for just keeping it real. Several projects were started and finished and we are looking forward to the next weekend retreat.
The Fabric Shop & Hop on Saturday, May 26, 2012 was a lot of fun for Cherry, Evelyn, Gloria, Narda, Bobbie, Alora & Melvin, and Cheryl! We departed from the Harrisburg Mall at 9:55 a.m. and thank you to Cherry and Melvin for driving.
Our first stop was Bird in Hand, PA. We shopped at Omar & Sylvia Petersheim Quilts & Fabrics, Log Cabin Quilt Shop, and The Quilt & Fabric Shack. We were delighted to get everything that we need for an upcoming table runner workshop including a discount for the Creative Grids 60 degree triangle ruler.
We took a break from shopping and had a wonderful lunch at Dienners. The food was delicious and one of us was introduced to a dish known as Chow Chow. The conversation was lively and one of the highlights was a funny story shared by Evelyn.
Our next stop was Intercourse, PA. We saw a lot of Amish horses and buggies along the way. We were amused by a passenger in one of the buggies who jumped on the floor to pray for his safety on the busy highway. We shopped at The Old Country Store, Dutchland Quilt Patch, and Zook's Fabric Store.
We purchased fabric for current projects and stash for future projects. As we were admiring our purchases, Narda shared how much she enjoys looking at and feeling the fabric she purchases before she cleans it and puts it away. We chuckled and pondered this during our "fabrigasm" discussion.
The Creamery was on the way home so we stopped for ice cream and free samples of Shoe Fly Pie and Mocha Cream Chocolate Cake.
We had a great time and look forward to the next one!
The May road trip will be on Saturday, May 26, 2012. This Fabric Shop Hop trip is one unanimously agreed upon by African American Quilters Gathering Harrisburg (AAQGH) members. Participants will leave from the front of the Harrisburg Mall at the Bass Pro at 8:45 a.m. Participants will spend approximately 1 hour at the following trip destinations:
Sylvia - Bird in Hand, PA Log Cabin - Bird in Hand, PA The Quilt and Fabric Shack - Bird in Hand, PA Dutchland Quilt Patch - Route 30 Lunch Bitty Kinna's - Intercourse, PA The Old Country Store and Museum - Intercourse, PA Quilt Store - Intercourse, PA