Griswell Center quilting instructor Bobbie Irvins shows a yo-yo patterned throw created by a former class member from her late mother’s dresses.
To quilters at Griswell Senior Center in Jonesboro, scraps of material aren't the end of a fabric's life but the beginning of a sewing project resulting in a treasured family heirloom or blanket given to a homeless shelter.
Whether the scraps are donated or from a beloved mother's dresses, the materials — much like the crafters weaving the needles and thread — come together to forge something lasting and binding.
"We enjoy each other's company," said quilter Gerri Bowe. "This is our gateway to ourselves, right here in Bobbie's room. It really is a good place for quilters to come and want to stay. We'd love to have more join us."
Bobbie Irvins has been the quilting instructor at Griswell for about two years. Fellow seniors just call her "the quilting lady."
"I want the quilters to keep that love for quilting," said Irvins. "I love it and I don't want them to lose interest."
Activities at the senior centers are open to anyone 55 and older. All members don't come every day so class size varies. Some days there are three or four and they are serenaded by music emanating from a donated radio. Other days, the room is so full of quilters, it is hard to get a word or stitch in edgewise.
The craft of quilting is rooted in community. Generations of quilters, mostly women, have gathered around a stretch of multiple fabrics displaying patterns like log cabin, pinwheel and nine patch, and talked. And talked. Techniques and tools may have advanced but the talking remains the same.
"Oh, we talk about everything," said Irvins. "Most of us are grandmothers so we talk a lot about our grandbabies."
Bowe is working on a quilt specifically for her granddaughter's first birthday Sept. 17. Like the other quilters, Bowe has embraced a newfound skill — transferring photos to fabric. The baby's portrait centers the quilt, which will feature photos of her parents and grandparents surrounded by pink and brown fabric.
The first big project to feature photos on cloth is displayed in the center's entryway. The "Going to Griswell" quilt was created this year in honor of the center's fifth anniversary. An aerial photo of the center is surrounded by scenes depicting life in and around the center. Garland Cobb, owner of Main Street Framing and Art Store, imprinted the aerial photo onto canvas, said Irvins.
The quilt's "gone fishing" design, based on the popular log cabin pattern, features shades of blue on the top half of the hanging and greens on the bottom half. There is double meaning behind the colors. The light blues reflect the sky but also the early part of the day, when most members go to the center. The darker greens represent the grass but also the evening when most members go home.
For some quilters, the class is the highlight of their day. Philadelphia native Irene Thompson was looking for something to occupy her time after she relocated to Georgia.
"This has been a blessing to me," said Thompson. "I have met new friends and I'm in my second childhood. I have already made quilts for my two great-grandchildren."
Fellow quilter Vivian Pryor also turned to the craft later in life although a needle pulling thread is part of her heritage.
"My mother and grandmother used to quilt," said Pryor. "Now that I am retired, I thought I'd try my hand at it. I love it. I am working on my sixth quilt."
Thompson is already an admirer.
"Viv puts out some beautiful work," she said.
Some quilters usually have more than one project going at a time, even if it takes a while to get going. Bowe is working toward finishing a crazy quilt pattern she first started five years ago. She is up to about a half dozen completed pieces of pattern in shades of red and pink that she will join together to create a throw or something larger.
Most quilters are "connoisseurs of scraps."
"It's like, don't throw anything away," said Irvins. "If you have any kind of material or fabric you want to throw out, don't. Give it to us. We take all donations."
The quilters then make the most of the donations by turning around and giving away the resulting projects to adult assisted-living facilities and the Hosea Williams Feed the Hungry and Homeless program.
"Old blue jeans are great for making rag quilts," said Irvins. "They are great for warmth because they don't need batting."
But creating a quilt that can be enjoyed for generations or shared with those less fortunate is only part of why the quilters look forward to gathering in Bobbie's room.
"I enjoy the association with my sisters and we're all sisters," said member Icicie "Ike" Coleman. "It's nice and I learn a lot from them. I hope they pick up something from me."
To donate material or get more information on the quilting class, contact the Griswell Center at (770) 477-3499.