PUBLISHED: 4:53 PM on Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Peace by piece
Sharing warmth by the art of quilting

Photo by Diane Tschirgi
  Willie Larsen, Lorrie Garner and Michele Henighan tie quilts.
Quilting is a universal art form that has been around for centuries and has been part of America's heritage since colonial times, reaching its heyday in the late 19th century through the popularity of quilting bees. Following World War II, there was a lull in quilt making fervor, with many women entering the work force and a shift to a modern economy that viewed quilts as old-fashioned and out-of-vogue, but has been making a comeback since the 1976 Bicentennial.

In Juneau, an active and enthusiastic group of ladies share an enduring interest in quilting by making quilts for those in need locally and globally. Since 1991, the ladies of Resurrection Lutheran Church have met every Wednesday to make quilts for Lutheran World Relief (LWF). In the early days, most of the materials used were from old draperies and clothing, with a net output of 15 quilts per year. The women learned the art of quilting together, and over time, have developed into a highly efficient quilt producing force, with a current annual output of nearly 400 quilts.

No one person can make this happen. Rather, it is a piecing together of community talent, generosity and teamwork. From the donation of material by St. Vincent de Paul, to the preparation work in the homes of volunteers, to the weekly assembly, to the shipping provided at no cost by Alaska Marine, this historical and practical art form is alive and well.

Each Wednesday, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., the gathering hall of RLC is transformed into a production center with well-tuned stations. At the first station, the quilt layers (backing, batting, and top) are assembled, pinned, and place holders for ties marked. Then the piece is transferred to the tiers, who bind the layers together with yarn. Then it moves to the sewing machine operators, who sew the binding in place. At this point the quilt is complete, only awaiting a blessing and a destination.

Many quilts remain in Juneau, given to high school graduates and new babies, or to anyone in the community in need of a little warmth and comfort. Others are designated for disaster relief, such as the 75 that were sent in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And still others go further, often to the Russian Far East, and other locations selected by LWF.

With most of the material and shipping donated, this weekly activity is as cost-effective as it is productive. However, batting and yarn needs to be purchased, so the ladies hold an annual fund raiser, usually a brunch or a quilt auction.

The women are always looking for more volunteers. While many are dedicated weekly participants, others come and go as they can. Some just while they are visiting family in Juneau, others as their schedules allow. They stay an hour, or all day, or just join the ladies for lunch. Quilting experience levels vary greatly as well. Some have many years of experience, others have never quilted before. The ladies are happy to show anyone willing to learn, and no one who is interested in helping will find themselves without a task they can accomplish. In the midst of all this learning and activity, new friends are made. Florence Sachs said, "The fellowship and camaraderie are as important as the production of quilts."