I knew where I was headed- to a large shed outside Dryville, PA that had been used to pack and sort apples when the farm was a working orchard. Dozens and dozens of old Order Mennonite women were coming together to this farm to quilt. Some driving their buggies from up to 6 miles away, others hiring van drivers to bring them. Only one car, that of my midwife, Patti Lee, was in the pull off, besides mine. I thought I knew what to expect, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw inside.
When I opened the door, I was shocked to see six large queen sized quilts stretched out across the room, with anywhere from 12-20 women seated on all four of the quilt’s sides. They older women wore dark colored dresses with small flower prints, the younger women- light colored dresses with small flower prints- all wore little white caps. Every age was represented from late teens to their seventies. Most had only had one hand on top of the quilt, needle and thread in hand, and a metal thimble on their middle finger to push the needle through the fabric. The other was mysteriously missing, under the fabric applying pressure and guiding the needle back up as they made their perfect measured stitches.
There were quite a lot of children, all breast-feeding age – maybe a few dozen, and most played quietly in groups on the floor or sat in teenage girls laps on chairs alongside the window. These girls were the baby minders, brought along to help with the babies and toddlers. No child yelled or threw a fit while I was there but played happily.
Many women looked up when I entered the room, me feeling conspicuous in my canary yellow down jacket, big hoop earrings, long hair and an armful of silver bangle bracelets. Patti introduced me and announced that I was the woman who ran the non-profit for Veterans, River House, which will be the recipient for the one quilt Patti was sponsoring.
They looked up at me and smiled shyly. I waved. Patti brought me over to our quilt and explained that the design she chose to have made for the auction was called the “Ragged Star.” It is an 8-pointed star design is a Depression era pattern. The design creatively turns fabric scraps and rags into useful bedding.
Laura Brubaker, a former client of Patti’s, has a quilt shop just north of Kutztown, just off Rt 222. A hand painted and lettered swan sign directs friends and customers to the shop. Patti visited Laura’s shop and selected the pattern first, the “Ragged Star” design, then spent another hour or more going through bolts of fabric and a box of fabric scraps. They pulled together colors that were reproductions of fabrics from 1810-1865. Patti also purchased the thread, needles, batting and backing for the quilt- part of her donation to River House’s November Auction. Edna Leid, also a former client of Patti’s, was paid to cut out the fabric pieces, arrange them into the Ragged Star design, and machine stitch the quilt top. Machine stitching the pieces into the quilt top design makes the quilt much stronger than hand sewing the individual pieces.
The ladies showed me how the quilt was stretched on a quilt frame that allowed the quilt to get wound in toward the center as the outer stitching was completed. As time went on, the women got so close to each other across the frame, one one playful older Mennonite woman commented, “Pretty soon I can kick her over there.”
The women who were quilting the layers together, were all friends, and shared lively conversation while they worked. They all took time out of their busy lives to do this service out of the kindness of their hearts. One full day, from 8:30- 3:00 they will work nearly unceasing except for an amazing pot luck lunch. Our quilt top will be completed in one long day!
Patti brought me around and introduced me to each group of women and told me the story behind each quilt, and who would be honored to receive either the quilt, or the money from auctioning it off. All the quilts being stitched that day in the former apple sorting building, were being made to raise money for good causes- toward medical expenses for a young man who had a liver transplant, as a thank you gift for work done by a friend, for an auction to raise funds for special ed at one of the one-room schoolhouses.
Since the mid 80s, this one day quilting blitz event has been happening, initially to sew a quilt to auction to raise money for the Pennsylvania chapter of the American College of Nurse Midwives. It expanded over the years to include more women who were or had been midwife patients and more quilts as fundraisers various good causes. One year they quilted in the Rotunda of the state capitol in Harrisburg! All the other years, the midwife’s quilt went to a midwife group in Haiti, where Patti does service work, teaching their midwives the important and necessary skill of safely delivering Haitian babies. This year however, Patti wanted to donate the quilt to my organization, River House PA.
The ladies who were making River House’s quilt asked me some things about my Veterans, who they are and then shared how much compassion they felt towards them for what they are going through.
It was heartwarming to watch the women sewing away for me, for my organization, for my Veterans and I was so grateful. But what was even more moving was the fact that Patti delivered almost every single woman’s’ babies in that room. Some of the older women birthed a dozen babies each and now Patti is catching babies for some of those original babies. Patti also delivered mine over 25 years ago and she has been delivering babies in this community of old Order Mennonites for 28 years. Wow. What a lot of LIFE GIVING.
That’s how I see the work that we do at River House PA too, helping to give the Veterans their life back, by showing them a healthier, more joy and peace-filled way to live. Whether its hiking through the forest, floating a wild river, stretching in a stress-reducing yoga class. And when our Dinner/Dance/Auction comes around on Veteran’s Day, November 11 at the Topton American Legion, Patty’s Ragged Star Civil War era quilt will be front and center on the auction block. Don’t miss seeing it and bidding on it and you might be lucky enough to win it and take it home to grace your bed. If any of you have a piece of art, or craft or item or an outing you can offer for auction, get in touch with me. Proceeds go to help with operational costs of the organization (liability insurance etc).
We are so grateful to dear Patti Lee and Mennonite ladies of the Kutztown area!!!