Baton Rouge Traditions

Stitching Community: Fiber Arts and Service

By Laura Marcus Green


Page 4


Quilts and Community Service: Love, Comfort, and Advocacy

The Fabric of Community: Quilting Guilds and Organizations

Like many traditional art forms, quilting is a barometer of the times. Quilting provides an especially vivid example of folk art's dynamic nature. Over the years, as women have increasingly worked outside the home, machine quilting has largely replaced the hand stitching that once was prevalent in this art form. Thanks to machine quilting, which today includes the possibility of having one's quilt quilted by a professional, women are able to keep quilting a part of their lives, even with the fast pace and strenuous demands of contemporary life. There are still those who hand quilt, or do both machine and hand stitching. With so many changes in women's lives and quilting technology, the old-time quilting bee has largely been replaced by quilting guilds. Generally, quilting guilds meet monthly and hold structured meetings where members share news, show and tell about finished projects, and often hold an educational program. Little actual sewing or quilting take place at these gatherings. Hands-on stitching takes place in quilters' homes and at quilting retreats or "sew-ins" where quilters bring their portable tools and supplies to meetings and work on individual or group projects. The growth in these types of get-togethers has generated a whole line of portable sewing machines, wheeled storage, lamps and other gear. Have sewing machine, will travel!

Sassi Strippers

Baton Rouge is home to about a dozen quilt guilds, according to one estimate. Research for this project included attending the meetings of three of these, including the River City Quilt Guild, Remember Me Quilt Guild, and the Sassi Strippers Quilt Guild. All three guilds have service arms, which coordinate the donation of quilts and other handmade items to causes decided upon by members.

The Wasted Women's Bee and The Giving Quilt, two unique Baton Rouge quilting organizations focused exclusively on community service quilting, take the service dimension of quilting to a whole other level. All three of the quilt guilds documented for this project contribute to The Giving Quilt, which holds a biennial quilt show featuring hundreds of quilts that are donated to over forty local, national, and global service organizations. Between shows The Giving Quilt conducts special projects, responding to needs in the community and beyond. Wasted Women and The Giving Quilt work closely together. Every other week, Wasted Women members gather to sort their massive stash of donated fabric and quilt kits for distribution, and work on service quilts themselves. "Wasted" refers to the use of donated fabrics, sometimes left over from other projects.

Laura Marcus Green, Ph.D. is Folklife and Traditional Arts Program Director at the University of South Carolina's McKissick Museum and the South Carolina Arts Commission in Columbia, South Carolina. The research for this article was completed in 2014 and published in 2016 as part of the Baton Rouge Folklife Survey. Green gratefully acknowledges Maida Owens and the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program for the opportunity to pursue this research. She extends heartfelt appreciation to the fiber artists and fiber arts organizations whose generosity in time and knowledge made this project possible. Green dedicates this essay to the memory of her grandmother, Helene Laura Tarr, who taught her to crochet and introduced her to the idea of fiber arts and community service, as she crocheted lap robes for wheelchair-bound patients in a Veterans Administration hospital and nursing home.