Thursday, April 21, 2016

Quilter offers personal narrative in work

A story in this week's issue of The Crittenden Press incorrectly stated
that Orpha Beachy (above) would be the featured quilter at a quilt
show at the Woman's Club of Marion. However, Beachy will be
featured at Marion City Hall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

At first glance, anyone would say that Orpha Beachy has some beautiful quilts. But spend a little time with her, and her quilts come to life in the form of a personal narrative.

Humble in her ability, Beachy has used quilting primarily to help others. She has only a few in her personal collection, and two in recent years have been People’s Choice Award winners from the Crittenden County Extension Homemakers Quilt Show.

Beachy will be the featured quilter in Saturday’s Backroads Quilt Show at Marion City Hall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., displaying an assortment of quilts made by her and her mother, as well as some interesting quilting accessories.

The Beachys raised their six children in Belvidere, Tenn., before moving to Crittenden County in 2008.

Like most Mennonite women, quilting has always been a big part of her life. Following tradition, Beachy learned the art of quilting from her mother.

Most of Beachy’s skills were refined in monthly church “sewings,” alongside her mother and other women and their daughters. Traditionally, Mennonite women meet monthly and work together to prepare comforts, or blankets, for missions projects – a tradition Beachy and fellow church members recently resumed at the newly completed Fredonia Mennonite Church.

Customarily, females in the Mennonite and Amish communities around the country contribute their handiwork to Christian Aid Ministries, which operates a disaster relief agency, cannery and clothing center, among other things, and supplies a multitude of products to areas in need within the United States and abroad.

It was as a young girl sitting around the church fellowship hall in Stuarts Draft, Va., that Beachy began to make comforts, as she calls them, for her church’s missions projects. She first learned to simply cut material into squares, then progressed to piecing the cotton material before learning to make knotted blankets, those whose layers are tied together with yarn. Not until she was married in her early 20s did she learn to fine piece and quilt.

She learned the final step in the quilting process in old fashioned quilting bees still common in Amish and Mennonite communities today. In the absence of quilting machines, small groups of ladies sit in a large circle carefully aligning and pinning together the quilt top, batting and backing before sewing it together.

“The first quilt I probably made was after I was married,” said Beachy, 59. “I’m not a prolific quilter. I haven’t made a lot to keep, most of the things I have made are projects I made for relief projects.”

Even before she knew her family would be relocating to Crittenden County, she had begun collecting quilt pieces from friends in the south-central Tennessee community with the intention of making a charm quilt, in which every quilt square is a unique piece of material.

The quilt became her most special piece of work since it contains hundreds of memories from friends from Tennessee.

Instead of squares, Beachy’s charm quilt is made of triangles – 723 to be exact, each of a different color or print.

“It is my Belvidere Neighborhood Quilt,” Beachy says. “I collected scraps from the older ladies I used to visit in the neighborhood.”

One floral triangle came from a handkerchief she purchased at the estate sale of a lady she knew in Belvidere.

She didn’t know she would be moving to Crittenden County when she began collecting the fabric for the eventual neighborhood quilt, which is what increased the sentimental value of the finished product.

“I have the names of the people who gave me each piece, and some of them are embroidered around the edge of the quilt.”

The charm quilt was an ideal way for Beachy to experiment with color placement, a skill she learned from her mother.

“I really enjoy piecing, but I enjoy placing pieces more,” Beachy said. “I really enjoyed placing that quilt.

“I was first thinking I would use rainbow colors but there are pieces of grays and blacks, so I tried to place each piece as the colors linked together,” with pinks transitioning into reds and reds into purples and purples into blues.

With careful consideration, she placed florals and patterns between solids and the outcome was quite interesting.

“My mother liked to make rugs and work with color, and I like to play with colors,” she said.

It is also the first quilt she pieced after recovering from a serious car accident in 2005 that sidelined her quilting efforts. It took time for her to recover from a broken neck, and looking down to sew and quilt was at first impossible, then quite difficult for Beachy for several years.

Finally, in 2010 the charm quilt was completed and earned her first People’s Choice Award at the local Homemakers Quilt Show.

Another of her favorite quilts, which she uses as a bed covering in a spare bedroom, was a project her late sister actually began.

There are 50 large squares on the quilt, one for each of the United States, each depicting an embroidered state bird and flower.

“My sister had done 14 of them before she died. It was going to be her ‘quilt from home,’ following Mennonite tradition that mothers make a quilt for their child when they are married.”

Following her sister’s death, Beachy and her mother worked together to finish the quilt.

In an important touch to preserve the history of the quilts she makes, Beachy leaves her calling card in the form of a cursive “OB”, her initials, with details on the back corner of the quilt, such as when it was made or for whom. Some of her quilts are reversible, such as the quilts she made for each of her sons.

Quilting has been a significant part of her life, and she was amazed to learn Crittenden County’s rich quilting history when she moved here.

“I enjoyed finding that here, I really like the community,” she said. “The people have been very welcoming. God blessed us by putting us in this area.”

She has several unfinished quilt projects she plans to complete as her health allows, including a polyester Storm at Sea quilt that she pieced in 2000-01, which features triangles, squares and diamond pieces in three shades of blue. Another work in progress is a flower basket quilt, for which she collected floral fabric for several years.

She has also saved fabric from each of her family members, including her mother and mother-in-law, which she is saving for the perfect project.