Once upon a Johnny Appleseed Festival in 1998, Jacquei Seals stood at her post, handmade quilts and sewn items strewn about her unique booth among an array of antiques, knicknacks and European food stands.
Looking out across the throng of passers-by, she spotted a cluster of patterns and scraps – quilts from the hands of diligent crafters such as herself.
“I said to myself, 'There's some sisters over there,' and I went right over and introduced myself,” Seals says.
It was shortly after this encounter that the Sisters of the Cloth Quilting Guild began in March 1999. Since then, the group has grown as tight as the taut hem on the quilts they make.
The initial headcount for the guild was six members: Amy Powell, Letha Anderson, Denise Jordan, Bertha McLemore, Helen “Gwennie” Stewart, Frances Campbell and Jacquei Seals. Nearly 20 years later, the group has just shy of 40 individuals and is always gathering more quilters of all ages to their cause.
On a monthly basis, finished quilts are shared, techniques and scrap cloths are swapped and collections for charity are made every second and fourth Saturday. The Sisters' motto is “Each one teach one,” which contributes to the mission of giving and sharing carried on by each seamstress.
Sisters of the Cloth has donated to a charity of its choosing nearly every year since the group's initiation. In the past, it has given quilts to organizations such as Shepherd's House, Riley's Children's Hospital, SCAN, an array of local nursing homes and even faraway groups like the Gulf Coast for Hurricane Katrina relief institutions. Charis House was selected as this year's charitable cause. Each member will be asked to donate at least one finished piece by the onset of fall, amassing quite the collection of hand-stitched gifts.
Sisters of the Cloth creations were recently displayed at Indiana University's Mathers Museum of World Culture. University student Laysha Hawkins recognized a quilt as one she once helped create with her old church community in Fort Wayne. The Sisters have taught sewing to children nearly since its inception and continue such classes at the McMillen Community Center on Abbott Street, where they conduct their monthly meetings.
Hawkins is not the only one from Fort Wayne to have found herself tied back to her roots through the quilts. Sisters of the Cloth includes women from all walks of life who have joined and maintained membership from across state borders. Teachers, nurses, local media workers, retirees, engineers and a lawyer are some of the few occupations found within the ranks. Some of the women hail all the way from D.C. and California to Texas and in between and still call the group home. Once a year, a reunion is hosted in the city to tie up all the loose ends in each member's life.
The president of the guild, Amelia Culpher, expressed her excitement of the impact the Sisters' dedicated outreach has. “It means so much to have a quilt,” she says. “It's a piece of somebody that's no longer around; a quilt will remind us of them, like being wrapped in someone's arms.”
Former president Marjie Jean Baptiste says, “When one person makes something, it inspires the others to do the same, to make it in their own way. Each quilt is an image of what someone's heart is saying. And it's my passion. It's sewing things together that makes my heart sing.”
The Sisters of the Cloth is always open to include interested sewers no matter their skill level or quilting experience. A book is set to be published about their nonprofit guild in 2019, in time for its 20th anniversary.