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African American Quilters Preserving the Quilting Tradition

African American news and cultureThey call themselves "Quilters". In reality, they are artists who create beautiful works of art out of left over scraps of materials. Twenty-three African American women gather once a month in Altadena to share their love of and maintain the tradition of all things quilts. As a local chapter of the African American Quilters of Los Angeles, a group of local women who call themselves the ALTA/PASA CUT-UPS, they exist to celebrate and continue the tradition of quilting and bring awareness of the historical value of quilting. When asked to describe who they are, they say they are a group of women of various ages, diverse interests, experiences, and backgrounds who share a love of quilting.

The group itself is a patchwork of talented African American women from all walks of life who joined together with one common interest: quilting. Benay Williams is employed by the Pasadena Department of Water and Power, Barbara McAlpine is retired from the Pasadena Recreation Department where she taught sewing and other crafts. Nadine Hegamin is a retired X-Ray Technician, Yvonne Drake worked as an Educational Aide working with special education children, Cheryl Simien worked at the U.S. Post Office where she handled complaints, Lenore D. Moore is retired from the finance Department of UCLA, Sarah Giles is a retired hospital administrator, Jan Emanuel is a retired teacher with Los Angeles Unified School District, and Anne Batiste is a retired Graphic Artists with Von's Markets and she teaches quilting.

This group of nine quilters stopped by The Journal offices on a moments notice to share the glory of their love of quilting. Their group has over 23 members. Some of them learned the art at the feet of their mothers and grandmothers. Most started by learning to sew clothing by hand and graduated on to quilting by hand and machine. They talk the language of quilting with meaning known only to them such as "sandwiching" which is described as placing two pieces of cloth on opposite sides of a filler to create a thick quilt.

The group laments the fact that while the art is one that refuses to die, young people of today have so many other distractions that they won't sit still long enough to learn. One the members learned from the Boys and Girls Club. Another learned from her 93 year old aunt in South Carolina. Needless to say she learned to make quilts by hand before the electric sewing machine became popular.

The parent group of Los Angeles Quilters is celebrating its 25th year, having begun in 1989. The Pasadena group started shortly thereafter. They travel to show and sell their products across the state. On April 24, 2010 a group will join the Los Angeles group in seven buses and travel to the Seven Sisters Quilting show in San Luis Obispo.

The group hold their monthly meeting the second Friday of the month. They meet at NATHA on north Lincoln in Altadena, from 6-9 pm, and are open to new members. The point was made that while young women are not keen on quilting that seems to change when they take it up as an activity with their mothers. As a business, they market their products at shows. An exception is one African American quilter who has operated her Ethnic Fabric & Quilts store in San Diego for the past fifteen years.

Another quilter, Jan Emanuel, created a quilt portrait of her recently deceased mother. Barbara McAlpine has created a line of quilts and wall hangings using the image of President Barack Obama. Cheryl Simien creates purses and handbags out of quilting. Some of Anne Batiste's works hang in the Pasadena Museum of History and at Curves in Altadena.

The group hopes to hold a show in the Pasadena, Altadena area for the Juneteenth celebration. Watch for the location in The Journal.


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