SEWing together quilts and relationships

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Photo by Intisar Seraaj./Mississippi Today

Members of SEW choosing from donated fabric for their quilts.

Last year was difficult for Rhonda Blasingame and her family. Her daughter was attacked and underwent surgery over several weeks to rebuild her face.

Even then — as the name of her group suggests — Blasingame was present to facilitate the quilting class Sewing Every Wednesday in Jackson every week. 

“This is my sacred time,” Blasingame said, as she sipped a cup of coffee. “My husband calls it my ‘Wednesday morning going to church.’ That’s exactly what it is to me.”

Blasingame, group facilitator and instructor for Sewing Every Wednesday (SEW),  says members support each other when they experience hardships and joys, such as losing loved ones, welcoming family births, dealing with medical issues and more.

Photo by Intisar Seraaj. / Mississippi Today

Susan Teasley applies the finishing, hand-stitched touches to a competition quilt sewn and designed by Rhonda Blasingame.

Susan Teasley, who has been a member of SEW for more than a year, says she most enjoys the fellowship. Sh hass been retired from the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services’ disability determination services in Madison for six years. Being a part of the group makes her feel like she’s doing something important for somebody else, she says.

Material and monetary donations and grant funding enable the group to continue charity work for the community.

This month SEW was awarded its third heritage grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission since the group’s founding about a decade ago. The grant for $4,500 was the group’s first grant in three years.

“This is a small grant, but it is important to us because it helps us buy supplies for the class,” said Deborah Giles, the director of programs for the Pearl Street Community Development Corporation, under which SEW operates.

Jane Chu, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, visited SEW last month as part of her tour to assess the state of the arts in Mississippi. The Mississippi Arts Commission received $794,200 this year from the NEA.

Quilters offer up prayers for recipients as they tie knots in the strings that hold pieces of material together.

Even with modest grant funding, SEW is able to stretch its money to help many.

Beyond the group’s needs, SEW uses its donations to operate quilting classes for all ages and to promote awareness about the tradition of quilting. Members have to work on a charity project every fourth Wednesday of the month.

SEW sews and donates wheelchair bags for the residents of Cottage Grove Nursing Home, Manhattan Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Pleasant Hills Nursing Home and Woodlands Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center.

They make prayer quilts for those in need, during which time they say prayers for the recipients while tying knots in the strings that hold the pieces of material together.

Members use donated fabrics and materials that aren’t fitted for quilting to sew dresses for girls in Kenya.

They make quilts for the babies at Pearl Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in west Jackson, where the members meet every Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.

Photo by Intisar Seraaj. / Mississippi Today

A SEW member cuts fabric for her current quilt project.

Blasingame, who is a master quilter and a fellow at the Craftsmen Guild of Mississippi, says almost everything SEW uses — from rotary cutters to fabric — is donated.

Other supplementary funding comes from a yearly raffle of a quilt sewn by the group. Each member sews a section and then they unite the pieces into a cohesive quilt.

But the group still requires funding to buy materials such as fresh thread, sewing machine needles, soft batting for the inside of the quilt, and cutting mats, which are about $100 per mat. They also use their grant money and donations to fund quilting-focused field trips and purchase refreshments for meetings.

But whatever donations the group receive, the members are grateful for it.

The Greek storyteller Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

During SEW’s existence, through the small grants it has been awarded and the donations it has received, its members have extended those gifts’ reach to others around the city, the state and the world.