Patching together `hours of freedom'

Quilting: A diverse group of people meets weekly to share their hobby, enjoy each other's company, and prepare for a biennial show and sale of their handiwork.

April 11, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Jordon Kitt had always been a man who worked with his hands - as much for creative release as for income.

He started by mastering a potter's wheel when he was 12 and grew up to work on a pottery production line in his early 20s; later he built wooden stairs for homes and offices.

But in 1992, he was diagnosed with systemic lupus - a strain of the autoimmune disease that often leads to debilitating arthritis - and Kitt knew his tactile pursuits were in jeopardy.

But five years ago, after the worst of the joint inflammation and pain had set in, he found an unlikely artistic outlet, one his fingers could handle: Kitt became a quilter.

"My body was more suited to quilting than anything else," the 38-year-old Columbia resident said. "Ceramics was a possibility, but with that you need to be consistent. Fabric was wonderful because you can put it down and pick it up a month, six months, a year later, and it doesn't warp or split or crack."

Kitt belongs to the Faithful Circle Quilters guild, a group of 140 quilters who meet weekly in Columbia to trade tips, provide lessons, glean inspiration and enjoy the sort of group therapy found in fellowship.

"I can vent about just about anything there," Kitt said. "They're a group of phenomenally skilled people with a great sense of humor, which I find is vital."

The group, all but three of whom are women, will hold its 14th biennial quilt show - The Gifts of Quilting - from April 18 to 20 at First Presbyterian Church of Howard County in Columbia.

A silent auction, which funds the group's education ventures, will include donated works. Other quilts will be for sale. But the guild's exhibit is the headliner: More than 300 items will be on display, including bed quilts, wall hangings and clothing in styles ranging from traditional patterns to abstract art.

The guild's members are nearly as diverse as their work.

"They're really varied," said guild President Monica Thomas. "We have all ages, from young to middle-aged to older, and all types of professions."

Learning the craft

Kitt will exhibit two quilts at the show. One is a colorful assembly of cartoon images he made for his 5-year-old son, Ben, and the other is the first quilt he started, the one that began it all. It's a giant log cabin quilt meant for a king-size bed.

"I tend to do things in extremes," Kitt said. "It's the story of my life."

It took Kitt several years to finish the first quilt - he started and finished many other projects while working on it - but that just made its completion all the sweeter. Kitt said he sometimes needs to clear his mind of a project, so he takes a break and works on something else. But often that can mean death to a project.

"There are two types of quilting projects," said June Piper-Brandon, a quilting instructor who joined the guild four years ago with her husband, Lyle. "UFOs and WIPs."

UFOs will never get done, she said. Those are the "unfinished objects" that people can't quite bring themselves to toss out, but that they know they'll never finish, she said. WIPs, "works in progress," are projects for which there is hope.

In some ways, this is how living with lupus could be viewed. There is no cure - no end - but there is hope.

Medications can help control the effects, and patients can expect to live normal, if not completely comfortable, lives. That wasn't so years ago. Kitt's father died of the disease in 1965.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, the disease affects 1.4 million Americans. It usually sets in between the ages of 15 and 45 and slowly robs the body of normal movement and functions by choking joints and organs with auto-antibodies, which attack the body itself.

`Certain opportunities'

For Kitt, lupus has meant aching joints, diminished vision, heart failure and even a broken neck, which he suffered because of complications with a medication.

Though Kitt no longer makes a living with his hands - he's a stay-at-home dad - quilting gives him a break in his everyday routine and keeps his artistic visions fresh.

"It's a few hours of freedom once a week," Kitt said. "I don't know what my life would be like if I didn't have lupus. It's given me certain opportunities and insights that I wouldn't have had. I certainly wouldn't have ended up raising my son, and I probably wouldn't be quilting. But I'm pretty good at going where the wind takes me - the path of least resistance."

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