Local quilters dive into the meaning of their work

Quilters use white gloves when displaying homemade crafts. Photo by Kalia Green

Quilters use white gloves when displaying homemade crafts. Photo by Kalia Green

By Kalia Green
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Ladies of the African American Quilters of Baltimore displayed dozens of patched-work cloths Sunday at The Hampton National Historic site, proud to be continuing an ancient skill that some historians say helped lead slaves to freedom in the 1800s.

In the current climate, with police shootings of young black males to Ku Klux Klan rallies, few know that quilts were used as one of the biggest forms of protests. One controversial belief is that quilts were used in the Underground Railroad when the slaves would embed codes into the patterns to help illiterate slaves memorize directions and activities they may have needed for escape.

AA Quilters of Baltimore, founded in 1989, meet monthly to provide a secure and positive place for women to gather and discuss their feelings as they craft quilts that preserve stories of family, moral and spiritual history. Each member of the quilting group has her own story, which they tell through their quilt works.

Quilters discuss details of their craft. Photo by Kalia Green

Quilters discuss details of their craft. Photo by Kalia Green

“I’ve been in this group for 20 years now,” said Sandra Smith of Silver Spring, who moved to the area from New England. “I am a fabroholic. I quilt all the time. I quilt everything!”

Smith said the Baltimore group shares its African American heritage, unlike her experience in New England. She said that back in New England most of the groups she joined were predominately white.

Jackie Simpson, who described herself as an “obsessive quilter,” shared a different experience.

“I started quilting in the 1980’s when I was a housewife trying to find something to do other than cleaning or watching kids,” she said.

Simpson said every where she went she thought of quilting. The various types of quilting she thought of included: Hawaiian quilting, strip, seminar, paper piecing, regular piecing, applique and hand quilting.

“I see it in buildings, and paintings and floors,” said Simpson. “I even have my husband taking pictures of floors for me now.”

The AA Quilters of Baltimore welcome a range of quilters from beginners to professionals. They also hold informative classes for newcomers interested in learning the art. Some of the members sell their quilts, make personalized quilts for others, or give them away. Simpson said her motto is: “It’s too expensive to buy, I’ll give it to you for free.”

Important messages were often embedded in quilts. Photo by Kalia Green

Important messages were often embedded in quilts. Photo by Kalia Green

“There is no simple style that dominates the African American quilt,” said Glenda Richardson, president of the Baltimore quilting group.

Richardson said she began quilting in the late 1990s and sat in the back of a quilting class. She said she never expected to one day become president.

“I started from the back row literally, now I’m here,” said Richardson. “I’ve grown so much. It has really been a growing experience. I love this group.”

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