Mending the fabric of torn community

Project: Carroll students are creating a quilt with scenes from New York and messages of hope for residents of the city.

September 22, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

What began as scraps of red, white and blue fabric is now a quilt with American flags, stars and words of support - a collection of cloth pieces bearing a message of hope from Westminster to beleaguered New York City.

Several patches contain fabric printed with New York's former skyline - graceful buildings rising against a starry, deep blue sky, the Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty and the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The towers, in lower Manhattan, were destroyed Sept. 11 when terrorists hijacked two airliners and flew them into the skyscrapers, killing thousands of people.

"It is what I hope the New York skyline will look like again," said Alexis Marie Schneider, 16, one of several Carroll County Career and Technology Center students working on the quilt. "I want this quilt to be a symbol that they aren't out there all by themselves."

With fabric marker, she wrote on one patch: "We will find peace." On another, she stitched a glossy blue star onto red-and-white striped cotton ticking.

Other quilters penned Bible verses and short messages: "Be strong for your country" and "God's arms are around you." Said Kelsey Decker, 16: "We are trying to help. We want to give them something, something that shows people care and that we are thinking about them."

The students and members of Westminster Senior Center worked on several quilts this week as part of Sew for Charity, an event designed to produce pieces that will be auctioned to benefit Shepherd's Staff, a Carroll County ministry that provides community services.

The denim-bordered quilt for New York was meant to be a practice piece. The project quickly became much more than that.

"Ever since the crisis, the students have asked, `What can we do?'" said Cathy Spencer, textiles and fashion careers teacher at the technology center, which provides programs for the county's six high schools. "This way, they are helping in a visual sense and uplifting people."

Ramona Cross, 73, stared at the New York quilt stretched across the floor of the senior center this week. She touched several pieces gently and straightened the rows.

"Every time I walk around, I see something I didn't see before," said Cross. "There is a lot of work in here. The kids have given it a blessing. They put themselves into it for New York."

The 8-foot-by-8-foot quilt is almost done, save for a final touch: The students will carry it to classrooms at the career and technology center next door to Westminster High and gather signatures from about 500 schoolmates. It will be mailed to New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani next week, said Spencer.

"This is a memorial tribute," said Chrissie Bowman, 16. "We recognize what happened, and we feel sympathy. It is time for everyone to come together, like this quilt is coming together."

Bowman penned words from the gospel of Matthew onto one patch: "The end is not yet."

"I thought that would be a comforting statement," she said. "We thought we were so powerful a nation that nothing could harm us. We just have to readjust our attitude a little."

Stefani McCullah, 17, said the class is giving "pieces of encouragement" back to the city that has lost so much. The relationship between the project and the tragedy was not lost on the students. "We have to all stick together and bring the spirit back to people," said Amber Murphy, 17.

Kathy Brown, Shepherd's Staff director, said, "This started out as a simple service project to help a charity and turned into something far larger. It is an expression of themselves, of their compassion."

The students hope to make several of what are known as chronicle quilts, emulating a pattern developed during World War II. In that era of scant resources 60 years ago - an eon to these teen-agers - quilters stitched ragged discards onto newspaper backing. The chronicle quilts, named after the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana whose pages served as quilt backing, will be auctioned at Shepherd's Staff's 10th anniversary celebration in November.

"I keep ripping the paper and taping it back up," said Stephanie Roberts, 16. "If this is so hard for me, it must have been really hard for those women who sewed in the war. They probably had to sew by hand."

The 14 students used state-of-the-art sewing machines yesterday, on loan from Brother International Corp. in Bridgewater, N.J., to make the quilts. They plan to make a second quilt and possibly a third for the charity auction to benefit Shepherd's Staff.

Each quilter filled a blank sheet of newsprint with fabric scraps to create patches.

"All you have to do is fill up a piece of paper and join yours to theirs," said Carol Bell, an education consultant for Brother. "The idea is to use scraps that someone else has tossed away. We will take the paper out when we're done. During the war years, they left it in for a layer of warmth."

Brown asked that one surplus patch from the New York quilt be sewn into each of the quilts auctioned. Whoever buys them will have a reminder of Sept. 11 forever, she said.

"This was their practice, but it turned into something so much more," said Brown. "They were willing to do this project for our Festival of Angels, which honors the angels who have thought about other people in this world for the last 10 years. In this little corner of Carroll County, these kids are angels, too."

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