September 2014
Homeplace & Community

A Common Thread

Thomasville’s Cozy Quilters.  

Thomasville’s Cozy Quilters combine their artistry with a dedication to helping others.

Quilting is deeply woven into the fabric of American life. Whether telling a story, preserving a moment from the past, expressing a deep emotion or commenting on social issues, a quilt reminds us of special moments in our lives. This was certainly evident recently at the Thomasville Civic Center when the age-old artistry of quilting took center stage at the annual Hometown Celebration. The Cozy Quilters paid tribute to their popular craft with over 110 exhibits, showcasing the talent and ingenuity of their artistic members.

  The guild started in 2004 when Debbie McClure pondered the idea of opening a quilt store in Thomasville. When things didn’t work out, she started a quilting club instead. At first, the club had only five members, but now has over 56 members. (Credit: Amanda Walker)

Quilting is a community art, attracting both young and old, as seen in the large crowds attending the show. Marie Slade, who serves as vice-president of the Cozy Quilters, coordinated the event showcasing quilts, wall hangings, crocheted and knitted items, and a boutique with handmade items for sale. Each display featured personal information about the piece and its maker. The quilters also had many interesting stories to share with those who stopped at each station.

Vintage quilts, art quilts and original quilts hung among the cherished antiques in the Safford Room of the Civic Center. At the entrance was a "Thomasville" quilt, created by Runelle Reid, Marie Slade and Ramona Kelley. Framed in Thomasville’s colors of maroon and gray were photographs of people and events that had impacted Reid’s life. Marie Slade designed the quilt top and Ramona Kelley helped with the quilting. Guests stopped to look closely at the pictures and share stories about the people and places in the photographs.

Another piece that captured much attention was one made by Marie Slade. Wanting to protect the dresser scarves and doilies that her mother had lovingly embroidered and used in their home, Slade looked for a way to preserve these priceless family treasures. She designed a quilt that framed the heirloom pieces, preserving them forever for her daughter Alissa.

Diane Fendley comes from a long line of quilters, so she took great pleasure in sharing some of her family treasures. One was a creation called "Umbrella Ladies." Diane’s mother-in-law Fay Fendley had made all of Diane’s maternity tops when she was expecting her son. Years later, "Miss Fay" took the tops and made Diane the "Umbrella Ladies" quilt. Her great aunt Alice Cassity made another heirloom quilt. Cassity had once worked at Solomon Brothers Shirt Factory in Thomasville. The company, which closed years ago, would give scraps to its employees, so Mrs. Cassity took some of the old shirt-factory scraps and made a Star quilt, leaving a priceless memento for her family.

Jenny Davidson’s talent and creativity were evident in the incredible crocheted crèche and colorful dolls that she made. Davidson also shared a state quilt her aunt had started in 1970. Five family members had worked on the quilt before Davidson finished it this year. On the back, she embroidered the names and dates that each relative who had worked on the quilt. The artistry displayed in all the quilters’ exhibits was amazing.

The popular show featured the work of the Cozy Quilters, well known throughout South Alabama not only for their beautiful creations but also their charitable and community service activities. The guild started in 2004 when Debbie McClure pondered the idea of opening a quilt store in Thomasville. When things didn’t work out, she started a quilting club instead. At first, the club had only five members, but this soon changed. The club now has over 56 members. The City of Thomasville originally gave the group one meeting room, located in the old Thomasville Elementary School building. Now, the group has grown so much they need two rooms.

The goal of the Cozy Quilters has always been to serve and educate the community through quilting. Their "community" now spans five counties. When the group decided to make adult bibs, wheelchair caddies and lap robes for nursing-home and assisted-living residents, they supplied enough for all the patients in the Thomasville, Jackson and Camden facilities. Another project found them making baby items for the ALPHA Pregnancy Center in Jackson and the Grove Hill Hospital. They have also created pillowcases for the Children’s Advocacy Center in Grove Hill. When one member visited the local Dialysis Center and realized that patients did not have pillows to support their arms, the CQ made both pillows and pillowcases for each client. After over 50 defective electric blankets were donated to the Thomasville Healthcare and Rehab Center, the club lovingly removed all the electrical wiring and made coverlets for each resident.

The CQ has donated quilts to fundraising efforts for the ARC of Clarke County and the Southwest Alabama Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. They have also worked with the Clarke County Department of Human Resources at Christmas, filling boxes with lap robes and personal hygiene items for seniors. Amazingly, individuals have donated the materials and supplies for most of these projects.

The Quilts of Valor project, for families of fallen soldiers, has been one of their most inspirational activities. When Thomasville native Drew Knight and three other Coast Guard members were killed in a helicopter crash in Mobile Bay, the CQs created a special quilt honoring Knight and presented it to his parents. At their show in June, this quilt was displayed in a moving, patriotic setting. It was possibly the most photographed exhibit in the show.

The Cozy Quilters’ outreach and generosity have extended far beyond Clarke, Choctaw, Washington, Wilcox and Marengo counties, however. For example, they have quilted pillowcases for Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Mobile, for Harriet’s House in Demopolis and for tornado disaster victims in Tuscaloosa. If they hear about a need, they delight in finding a way to help.

Like the quilting bees of old, the gatherings of the CQ promote a sense of community and fellowship.

"Our meetings are on-going learning opportunities," explained McClure, who serves as the president of the club. "We meet every first and third Tuesday, and have a demonstration of the ‘block-of-the-month.’ Each member teaches the others. Also, we have a planning committee that meets on Mondays to make the project kits. Each member then takes a kit and completes that project."

The group also visits other quilt shows and enjoys something they call Shop Hopping. Occasionally, they will have a Midnight Madness event on a Friday night or an All Day Quilting on a Saturday.

The quilters’ way may seem out-of-step with our fast-paced technological world, but, in fact, their art is thriving. The CQ has embraced the Internet in ways unheard of in the past. With a keystroke, modern quilters share patterns, designs, techniques, tutorials and videos, creating a faster way to communicate and interact. Some CQ use the Electronic Quilters programs to design their own quilts, comfortably working with their iPads and smartphones. The CQ also has a Facebook page.

Quilting is indeed woven into our American way of life. It embraces many genres, takes many forms and gives artists a canvas to show how differently each of us see, feel and interpret things. Ask any one of the Cozy Quilters why she loves quilting and you’ll get a different answer from each one. But they all can agree on one thing: they delight in creating something that brings joy to others!

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.