Wednesday, April 21, 1999

Quilt talk leaves women in stitches

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The quilters' laughter ricocheted off the thick walls of the Ebersole Community Center.

        Their work done for another week, the five women giggled as they listed quilting's therapeutic effects.

        “It keeps you young,” said Della Marthaler.

        “It calms you down,” said Kat Renfro.

        “It keeps you limber,” said Wilma Toney.

        “It leaves something lasting,” said Jackie Frazier.

        The quilters promised they would explain a bit later. But first, it was time to put down their pins and needles and get ready for lunch.

        I can barely thread a needle. But the Ebersole quilters welcomed me into their circle for this week's “Lunch with Cliff.” That's where I share a midday meal with people at their usual haunt to find out what's on their minds.

        “I don't know if we do a little quilting with our eating or a little eating with our quilting,” said Marlene Trapp, the center's director.

        From the amount of food these women had prepared and the details and beauty of their handiwork, I would say they enjoy a good meal but love quilting.

        Their meal covered the top of the center's oil-cloth protected pool table. A roasted chicken sat next to a loaf of homemade bread. Three kinds of salads, two potato casseroles and a bowl of ham-seasoned green beans guarded the table's corner pockets. The center of the table was reserved for dessert, Della's homemade pineapple upside-down cake.

        As they took their places, the women carefully stowed their quilts-in-progress. In plastic bags and cloth sacks were stuffed patchworks of memories and legacies to future generations. The quilts are gifts for babies yet to be born and wedding presents for children still to marry.

        “I like the thought that something of mine is going to be on Earth long after I'm gone,” Marlene said as she filled her plate.

        As promised, the women explained quilting's therapeutic values.

        “Quilting makes me feel young,” Della piped up. “I'm 80.” But when she quilts, her fingers fly like those of a woman half her age.

        “I used to be on nerve pills,” Kat said. “But, now that I have quilting, I don't need them anymore.

        “When you sit around and quilt, you get busy with your hands. You get to talking with the other ladies about the weather, our husbands, our kids and things in the news. You forget about everything in your life that's making you nervous.”

        The Ebersole quilters first got together after the waters receded from the Flood of '97. The center served as a Red Cross shelter when the Ohio River overflowed its banks and put 4 feet of water in Jackie's house.

        Marlene came up with the idea of forming a group to make two flood-aid quilts. Each square in the quilts would represent a city department or company that helped the flooded community, a place natives such as Jackie call “town,” and maps call “California.”

        Over lunch, the women talked among themselves about their quilts. Several asked for advice on getting over some rough spots. They needed help with special stitches. Wilma wanted to know whether the fabric “came out nice and smooth” when Marlene pinned a teddy bear design to the quilt she's making for her grandson.

        But the quilt they talked about the most was the one that got away.

        One flood quilt disappeared from the center in October. It was made to hang in City Hall. Before the quilt could go on display, it vanished.

        “I'm hoping someone just picked it up by mistake,” Marlene said. “Or maybe they took it home for safekeeping and just forgot about it.”

        Wilma rolled her eyes. She thinks the quilt is too big to “forget about.”

        Admittedly, the quilt is hard to miss. It's a 6-by-9-foot rectangle with a blue-and-white border.

        Squares on the quilt honor city departments such as the police and waterworks in addition to reproducing the city's seal and the old moon-and-stars logo of Procter & Gamble.

        If anyone knows of the quilt's whereabouts, Marlene said, she'd welcome it home with no questions asked.

        There's even a reward for the quilt's safe return.

        One of Della's homemade pineapple upside-down cakes.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.