Twice a year Pyoca hosts a devoted group of local quilters under the energetic direction of Peggy Burns for the Annual Mystery Quilt Retreat in the spring and the Unfinished Project (U.F.O.) Retreat in the fall. This past weekend was the 15th Annual Mystery Quilt Retreat, as well as the celebration of Peggy’s 20 years of service at Pyoca. The basement of the lodge was bustling with over forty quilters, ranging from novice sewers to experienced professionals.
One may imagine that quilting is generally a solitary activity, but I have come to find that it is actually quite communal. Quilts are meant to encompass a great deal of memory and legacy, because a quilt is meant to be passed down from one generation to the next. In my own family quilts have been passed down from my great-grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother and aunt, and eventually to my generation. My grandmother has carried on the tradition of her mother by making quilts for me, my sister, and my cousins.
These gifts are precious. Many quilts take hundreds of hours to complete. They are stitched with love. Seams are ripped out and fixed. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pieces of fabric are cut, sewn, ironed, and stitched together one after the other.
It is no wonder, then, that during the “Show and Tell” portion of the Mystery Quilt Retreat, there was a great deal of pride and emotion shown by every woman presenting her work. There were even multiple generations of the same family sewing side by side, sharing the legacy of their family.
Many women shared the history behind the quilts they were currently working on, in addition to the mystery quilt they had been assigned. We learned about friends and family members who would receive these works of art that were still in progress. We learned of the loss and grieving that can be associated with making, giving, and receiving something handmade. Everyone grew closer by sharing the stories of those close to us.
Quilts are a sign of communal healing. They can be full of the shirts of a loved one. They can be filled with camp shirts from the last twenty years. They can be completely new, or they can be made of leftover scraps of fabric. They are even full of theology: Remembrance. Tradition. Resurrection.
Quilting is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of time and devotion to complete just one. From an outsider’s perspective I was able to see how sacred the act of quilting can be, and what a joy for our ministry at Pyoca to be able to facilitate such a sacred space. There is no doubt that the fellowship of these quilters will with continue to flourish beyond this weekend.
Mystery Quilt model made by Peggy Burns.