Township Women Who ‘Just Love to Sew’ Quilting for 20 Years

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It all came together, piece by piece … literally. That piecework evolved into a quilt, meticulously assembled by a few Jefferson Township women who “just liked to sew.”

The small group also evolved. Before long, by word of mouth and a few blurbs in local church and news publications, the few sewing fans became many. That was back in 1999. Some 20 years and about 2,000 quilts later, the rest, as we like to say, is history … again, literally.

Jefferson Township’s Piece Partner Quilters Group is reminiscent of bygone years – way back to the mid-1800s, when quilting bees were the norm. It is likely they were the custom, too, in Jefferson during the mid-19th century, when the town was barely 50 years old and a community of 1,548 residents, according to U.S. census data.

While the craft of quilting may have had its ebbs and swells over the decades, the social aspect has remained constant. Quilting as a group is a chance for those who love sewing to gather and express their creativity in a productive way.

Therapeutic

The group’s founder, Mary Parr, agrees. “It’s good therapy,” she tells The Jefferson Chronicle, adding that she thoroughly enjoys the weekly camaraderie of sewing collectively. She notes that some have joined the quilters to learn the craft, and new members are always welcome.

“It’s an escape,” quips Lynda MacDonald, another member. Quilters have a chance to get away from worldly cares for a few hours, doing something enjoyable without daily distractions – unless, of course, the distraction is conversation, which was (and still is) another quilting bee reality. Back in the day, the bee might have been a rare opportunity for women in a sparsely populated area to gather and share news, stories, laughter … and likely some gossip, according to historians.

On our recent visit to a Piece Partner Quilters Group gathering, the atmosphere was lively and full of animated conversation. In fact, the lilt of laughter was heard even before reaching the parish hall of Milton United Methodist Church, where the group meets weekly. Entering the hall truly gave credence to the adage, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” A group of women sat bonding, sewing, chatting, and responding to one another’s stories with a chuckle, much the same as their predecessors did in centuries past.

Surrounded by pieces of colorful fabric, scissors, spools of thread, a multitude of needles and pins, finished patches, and an array of quilts, the women nimbly stitched, eyes focused on the patterns before them while immersed in conversation. Obviously, quilters are quite adept at multi-tasking!

Charity Begins at Home

Although the church does not charge a fee for the group’s use of the hall, the parish’s generosity is not taken lightly. At every meeting, “members each contribute $2, which goes toward helping pay for the heat and electricity we use,” Parr tells The Chronicle. The group meets in the parish hall every Tuesday evening from 6-8 p.m.

Ideas for quilt designs come from various sources, including books. Some designs spring from the creative minds of members themselves or are picked up while attending quilting shows. All these means account for the diversity of the group’s quilts.

There is also diversity in the number of beneficiaries of their handcrafted works of art. All the quilts are donated to charitable and benevolent organizations, including Jefferson’s own first responders, where they undoubtedly offer comfort and warmth during emergency situations. New Jersey’s veterans are also on the list of recipients, with quilts donated to state veterans’ hospitals as well as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Many quilts have been given to organizations assisting women and children such as Ginny’s House and Birth Haven in nearby Newton and Sustain Our Sisters, a battered women’s shelter.

Parr and MacDonald note that the township is also a recipient of the group’s handiwork in the form of a centennial quilt, which graces the hallway across from the clerk’s office in the municipal building. Placed in a position at the heart of Jefferson, the quilt can be admired and studied daily. It links the past and the present of Jefferson within a centuries-old art form that continues to engage women who “just like to sew.”

A “centennial” quilt, which hangs in the municipal building opposite the clerk’s office, was officially presented to the township by the Piece Partner Quilters Group. It depicts some of the township’s earliest landmarks and historical buildings. (Photo: Maria Weiskott)

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Maria Weiskott is a Jefferson Township resident and a forty year veteran of the publishing profession. An award-winning journalist and editor, she served in top managerial positions at numerous business-to- business newspapers and magazines including Reed Elsevier and Fairchild Publications. Early in her career she operated a local newspaper in the Passaic Valley towns of Little Falls, Totowa and the former West Paterson. Following retirement, she launched a “ghostblogging” service that provides social networking update and blogging services for small and medium sized businesses. Maria travels widely with her husband and is a passionate photographer. She can be reached at maria.weiskott@thejeffersonchronicle.com.