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August 20, 2004   Email to Friend 

A Stitch In Time
Cindy Riley

The Collinsville Quilt Walk in DeKalb County features historic quilts dating to the 1800s, which are displayed in the town's historic homes and churches.
Some are slightly faded , others burst with color. Many have been passed from generation to generation, including those carefully stitched by slaves more than a century ago. The Collinsville Quilt Walk offers an extraordinary display of both vintage and contemporary quilts--from pinwheel and Jacob's ladder to honeycomb and Garden of Eden varieties.

"They range from the very old, like those made in the 1800s, to brand new ones," explains event coordinator Vanessa Chambers. "Many of these quilts have a history. A large number of them are family heirlooms."

The three-quarter mile walk, scheduled for Sept. 24 and 25, includes a tour of Collinsville's historic homes and churches. The walk serves not only as a fund raiser, but also as a tribute to an American art form as old as the nation itself. During the Civil War, for example, quilts kept soldiers warm during the bitter cold. Quilting also provided women with an escape during the difficult Depression years and allowed them the opportunity to express their opinions about political and social issues through needle and thread.

"All of the quilts we exhibit are very special. It's amazing to see them featured. Last year, in the Methodist Church, they were able to hang quilts from the balcony. Others were draped over the pews. It was a lovely sight," Chambers said.

A variety of the patchwork blankets and coverlets collected are showcased at the numerous homes included in the tour.

"We always have wonderful houses to show. Many are historic. I remember one we featured was particularly charming. It had beautiful pocket doors, a tremendous staircase, hardwood floors and lots of crown molding. It really took my breath away," Chambers said.

Collinsville resident Susan Walls has opened her antebellum-style home to the public for the past two years.

"I've really loved being part of this event. It raises money for a good cause, and I like having people come view all the quilts I've collected over the years," she said. "I have about 30 big quilts and a lot of the smaller ones. There are some that date from the 1920s and 30s. I have Lone Star quilts, stack-n-whack quilts, a few made from flour and feed sack material, and some that are very old string quilts. Quite often, materials were scarce, so people had to make do with whatever scraps they could find, along with newspapers and cotton they had on hand."

Walls, who uses her quilting skills and specialized equipment to help local residents complete their own quilts, is a member of The Sew 'n Sews, a small sewing club that meets once a week. The group started the Quilt Walk three years ago, according to Chambers.

"The first year we got mostly local artisans to help us out, and we gathered a lot of family quilts, including some of my mama's. We had very few from out of town. But we put the word out in the community and people started bringing them from all over town," she said. "Last year, we talked to some quilt guilds and other groups and got them involved. We've also had a tremendous amount of support from our local downtown merchants. They've helped us out financially with our advertising, and have decorated their windows with quilts, or they allow us to do so. Some stores even have quilts for sale, although the ones we feature on the tour are for display only." Proceeds from the Quilt Walk benefit the Collinsville Library Fund. The current building, organizers explain, is too small, outdated and is located on a busy street.

"We already know the new location--the old G.W. Hawkins building," says librarian Jennifer Wilkins. "It once served as a general merchandise store, post office and the city's first theater. It is also one of only three buildings that survived the fire of 1900. This renovation will be its second chance to beat the odds in our wonderful town that is searching for ways to preserve its history."

Adds Wilkins, "The Quilt Walk is the single biggest fund raiser held to benefit our project. All monies go directly into the building fund--bids are currently being taken for phase one of our project. The generosity of the Quilt Walk organizers is amazing. They believe in our community and know it deserves the best access to current information."

Chambers hopes to contribute an even bigger check to the fund in 2004.

"Our first year we sold about 500 tickets. Last year, that number climbed to around 700, and this time we hope to sell 1,000," she said. "We really try to make it a fun and interesting event each time, like last year when we had horse-drawn carriages. We want people to enjoy themselves, and I should mention that it's not just women who turn out. We have a number of men who are particularly interested in the architecture and history of the homes. Children are also welcome to take part."

Tickets are $6 and can be purchased the day of the walk, which starts at U.S. Hwy. 11, Main Street. Hours are Friday, Sept. 24, noon to 5 p.m., and Saturday, Sept. 25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (256) 524-2788.

Freelance writer Cindy Riley lives in Hoover.



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