The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 23, 2014

Just Sew Sew: Quilting is a chance to cover and recover

By Lisa Shrewsberry
Lifestyles Editor

— Painters paint.

Gardeners garden. Quilters quilt.

Jody Postalwait found herself with a double inheritance. She spent her childhood in part sitting beside her grandmother, Marie Rose, learning the time-honored art of quilting. Time tends to honor; most preteens and teens don’t.

“To hear stories about when she grew up and about quilting bees, how they went from house to house, I didn’t appreciate it like a lot of younger ones probably don’t now.”

Postalwait recalled the fruits of her grandmother’s patient generosity when she later joined a quilting group called the Sew Sew Sisters founded by Edith Bailey. When Bailey passed away, she too left something for Postalwait — the leadership post of the 25-woman group.

The Sew Sew Sisters may belong to different churches, but at least two Saturdays each month (one per month during summer), they are nondenominational, meeting at Pikeview Christian Church, Beckley, for the purpose of giving ... and receiving.

To Postalwait, the purposeful camaraderie of belonging to the group mirrors the kind of mentorship and love she received from Rose, with older and more experienced quilters teaching and supporting younger ones.

As an adult, Postalwait experienced an unanticipated benefit of being a Sew Sew Sister, when they became a steady source of comfort to her in coping with the sudden death of her 26-year-old son, Bobby Keeling, in 2012.

“It was that phone call you get early in the morning that every parent dreads. There was a car accident.”

Grieving is like a quilt; it completes itself in stages and no two finished products are the same. It can’t be finished within someone else’s timeframe. It has patches that neglect to make sense alone, but unite in perfect harmony when all the pieces are fit together.

Postalwait turned to quilting, to her group, as therapy.

“Quilting had always been my go-to thing in tough times. It didn’t take me long to get back because I felt you have to push and to do things. All of those ladies have lost someone, too — they are there as a great support.”

For their outreach efforts, the women agree to take on two large projects each year to benefit the community. The most recent was the completion of 32 handcrafted quilts for the beds at Bowers Hospice House. The donation of carefully measured and quilted squares, fused into a colorful rectangle of complementary and contrasting patterns, was the largest single donation of quilts yet made to the house for patients with life-limiting illness.

Bowers Hospice House Director Rhonda Culicerto commented, “Each of the patient beds have had quilts on them for when they are first admitted since the house was opened. For a lot of people, quilts mean warmth and comfort. So, it takes them back to a time where people got together and talked and sewed and sought each other’s company. The quilts add another element of comfort.”

Suzan Lilly, another Sew Sew Sister who worked on the project, has found her artistic escape one intricate square at a time since 1987. Her iPad screensaver reads: “I Quilt. What’s Your Superpower?”

The busy tax auditor is also a caregiver to three aging family members who require her help with doctor’s appointments and daily activities. To the outsider, one more to-do would threaten her delicate balance, but quilting recharges Lilly to accomplish what others may view as impossible, very much like a “superpower.”

“I do it as often as I can. I think in patterns, in colors and in design. It’s a distraction, but it also keeps you focused, if that makes sense,” she described.

Sew Sew Sisters is Lilly’s primary quilting group, and she is always eager to try a new sampler block and learn of how a rotation left or right, with a chosen palette of colors, will give it unlimited possibilities, squared. The primary benefit, however, is in the giving.

“I give most everything I make away. I’ve been given so much. I have to pass it forward. Hospice has done so much for the community the family and friends, how could you not give back to them?”

Adding to their utility and visual aesthetic, Lilly treats her quilts as giant prayer cloths before send-off.

“When I first learned to quilt (from family), I was taught to pray over the quilts. I pray for the person who will be using it, for their families. It’s more than a quilt; it’s the comfort and the love of God.”

From replacing threadbare blankets with timeless, handcrafted works of art to learning a different technique for their lexicon of patterns, the Sew Sew Sisters prove their all-season mission is anything but “so-so.”

“We have donated lap blankets to the VA Medical Center, baby blankets (to agencies helping moms recovering from addiction). We would love for even more quilters to be part of the ministry,” said Postalwait.

For more information on the Sew Sew Sisters, contact Jody Postalwait at 304-929-2617.