FAIRFIELD — What began in a church food pantry has grown into a group of 15 women who just wrapped up a busy month.
The Quilting Sisters of Solano County exhibited their work at Solano County libraries during Black History Month and offered a free workshop for youth, helping them make a quilting block.
While the members are black women, their quilts tell stories from all walks of life and changing times.
Lovenia Fuston learned to quilt from her mother, who saved flour sacks for the quilt lining. Her mother sewed with the aid of a kerosene lamp in the dark.
“My mom made (quilts) for warmth,” she said. Instead of using batting to fill the quilt, her mother used cotton fresh from the cotton gin.
Like her mother, Fuston taught her daughter, Barbara Fuston, to quilt.
“I did one block. I still have that one block,” Barbara Fuston said. “I haven’t finished it.”
Unfinished quilts are common in the quilting community. Barbara Fuston stepped away from quilting for a while. A business trip to Raleigh, N.C., put her in the middle of “textile country” and revived her interest.
She made several traditional quilt tops that never became quilts.
“I got tired of them,” she said, adding that she was looking for colors that were difficult to find.
Today, she’s exploring different quilting patterns with the same zest.
“Every quilter has a bunch (of unfinished quilts),” said member Deborah Salmon. “You just end up with something you get halfway through and decided you don’t like it.”
Jeanette Robinson and Teri Green are another mother-daughter team in the Quilting Sisters of Solano County.
“Somebody’s going to pick it up,” Robinson said of a third generation.
Green’s daughter, now 11, was introduced to quilting a few years ago. Green took up quilting about 13 years ago, after sewing her own clothes since she was 8.
Her interest in quilting dates back to her youth, after her grandmother gave her a copy of “Hidden in Plain View,” a book about the history of quilts during slavery.
“I realized at the time (that) every quilt has a story,” Green wrote in an email with the paper. “Quilting gives me an opportunity to make masterpieces from small pieces of fabric stitched together.”
Quilting, she said, is her chance to leave a legacy in hopes future generations will talk about the quilts “their great-great-grandmother Teri made.”
Patience is a required virtue for quilters. Alberta Lewis was a teen when she began quilting. One of her quilts was featured in the Black History Month display at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfield. The quilt contains small silhouettes of black women, each one different and took her almost a year to make.
“I don’t want to do it again,” she said. But, she added, she’s a woman who enjoys challenges.
“It was my hardest,” she said.
Rose Marie Caraway is the newest member of the group. She grew up sewing her own clothes and discovered quilting in her 20s.
Robinson also learned to sew as a youth. While her mother and aunts quilted, she wasn’t interested. But the memories stayed with her.
“I enjoyed listening to the stories as they were stitching,” she said. “It was a wonderful time for everyone. Part of the history of quilting is how people would get together.”
The Quilting Sisters of Solano County meet monthly, giving them the chance to share their art and work on community projects such as lap quilts for skilled nursing facilities.
Members strive to make sure the art remains vibrant in all communities. Salmon works with youth at her church to make pillowcases. While they may not pick up quilting immediately, she said she hopes a seed is being planted.
“People are quilting,” said member Ann Farley. “We do have to get the younger generation. It’s usually older women.”
Learning to quilt brings many skills with it, Lewis said.
“You are teaching them something they are able to do themselves, how to be independent,” she said.
Members of the Quilting Sisters of Solano County also belong to the African American Quilt Guild of Oakland. Green, Barbara Fuston, Robinson and Salmon have created the opportunity quilt that will be raffled at the 2013 show June 15 in Oakland.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.