Sewing society to celebrate centennial

Bette Zeller, left, and Mary Margaret Caster, right, worked on an embroidered quilt top in the sewing room at St. Joseph Children’s Home March 7. The Ladies Sewing Society of St. Joseph Children’s Home will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a special Mass and reception at the home on March 21.

Record Staff Writer

In an era when quilting circles, bridge clubs and other ladies’ societies are largely thought of as things of the past, the Ladies Sewing Society of St. Joseph Children’s Home is still going strong.

The sewing group — founded in 1912 — will celebrate its 100th anniversary March 21, two days after the feast day of its namesake.

Originally, the group was formed to make items for the orphans at St. Joseph. The women made everything the children needed: shirts, pants, bed linens, socks, even curtains and cloth diapers. In later years, when it was cheaper to purchase clothes, the women turned their focus to quilt-making.

Today the ladies work primarily on four different types of quilts: embroidery, applique, piece-work and whole cloth. All of the quilts are made by hand.

“The only part we use a sewing machine on is the assembly,” Nancy Wood, president of the Ladies Sewing Society, said proudly.

A quilt can take 300-500 hours of quilting time alone, Wood said, with another 15-20 hours or more needed to assemble the pieces.

Members of the Ladies Sewing Society of St. Joseph Children's Home worked on an Irish chain quilt top in the sewing room at home March 7. The society will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a special Mass and reception at the home on March 21.

The Ladies Sewing Society is famous for the quilt raffle they hold each year at the annual St. Joseph Children’s Home Picnic. Much like a cake wheel, the group sells chances to win a hand-stitched quilt. The booth is so popular, said Debra Thompson, St. Joseph special events manager, that the group easily makes $15,000-$20,000 at the annual picnic  — all of which goes to St. Joseph Children’s Home at 2823 Frankfort Ave.

Today, they no longer make clothing for the children, but the mission hasn’t changed.

“We still make and raffle the quilts to benefit the home. It’s always been about supporting (St. Joseph),” said Wood, who is a fourth-generation member of the society.

The sewing group meets three times a week in a large room in the basement of the children’s home. A dozen or so large quilting frames sit on an original herringbone hardwood floor. Working on quilts in groups of two or three, the women bend over the frames and prick the fabric with precise stitches.

“At any one time, there are about 25-35 members here,” Helen Schmitt, who has been a member for 50 years, said.

And the ladies are always on the lookout for new members.

“You don’t have to know how to quilt to join. We will teach (anyone interested) how to quilt. It’s not hard; it just takes practice,” Wood said.

In fact, Wood did not know how to quilt until she joined the society 10 years ago.

“I learned how when I was a kid but never thought much about it until I retired,” she explained.

Now she sees the group as a way of giving back.

“I like all the women; I like the work; and I love to quilt. Everything we make, all the profit goes back into the home,” she said.

While they no longer make clothing for the children at St. Joseph Children’s Home, they do make a blanket for each and every child that enters the doors.

“The children really love them,” Wood said. “They get to pick their fabric and make it their own.”

And when a child is adopted, the group makes a special quilt with the “St. Joseph quilt block” that has the child’s name and adoption date embroidered on it.

In addition to the quilts the society makes for the children, they also aid the Child Development Center at St. Joseph by making bibs and cotton blankets, Wood said.

Pam Cotton, executive director of St. Joseph Children’s Home, said the 100th anniversary of the Ladies Sewing Society speaks to the “legacy of volunteerism at St. Joe’s.”

“Their art has been woven into the lives of tens of thousands of children over that time, adapting to the societal needs of the children,” Cotton said. “But what remains the constant at St. Joe’s is a caring and supportive community, a family, really, of volunteers who help give these children a home.”

To honor the 100th anniversary of the group, the women plan to hold a special Mass and reception March 21 at St. Joseph Children’s Home. The group also plans  to make a wall hanging to commemorate the anniversary.

Any past members or those affiliated with the group can call Nancy Wood at 458-1719 to make reservations to attend the celebration.

A gallery of quilt-making images is available by clicking here.

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