You can learn a lot from a person’s sewing kit.
Some are transparent, like Debbie Tyson’s, and you can see everything that’s in it before you even open up the lid.
Others are traditional, like Carolyn Reed’s, whose basket is common among frequent sewing enthusiasts.
But others are steeped in curiosities, like 89-year-old Alma Pinkerton’s.
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It’s housed in a faded pink Ralph Lauren tin with the words “From Your Valentine” printed across the side. It carries everything she needs to bring to meetings of the Newell Presbyterian Church quilting club, to which she, Tyson, Reed and eight others belong.
Inside the tin rattles a thimble, a small pair of scissors with the points wrapped in aluminum foil so they don’t scrape the sides, a tiny brown vial, formerly filled with nitroglycerin but now with pins (“I don’t know where I got that,” said Pinkerton, “I don’t have a heart problem”) and several small scraps of notes with instructions on how to sew.
“I’m going to be honest,” said Pinkerton. “I didn’t learn how to sew as a child.”
As a person one year shy of becoming a nonagenarian, some might think that’s unusual.
Years ago sewing was not only an opportunity for women to socialize with each other, but also a necessity to clothe their families.
Growing up in the mountains of Vesuvius, Va., Pinkerton watched the older women in her family work and laugh around the large quilting frame, which she could barely see over.
“That’s all I knew about how to make quilts,” she said. “I wanted to sew, but I was too little. They would say, ‘Go on and play now,’ ” before shooing her out the door.
The opportunity and time to learn never really matched up again until two years ago, when the pastor asked the women of the congregation to come up with an idea for fellowship.
“Pastor, I think we ought to sew,” blurted out Pinkerton, when he asked her. To this day she’s puzzled by the suggestion. She chuckled and said, “I don’t know where that came from.”
As more people became interested in the new group, Pinkerton let out her secret. She confessed she couldn’t teach any of them to sew.
Fortunately, others could.
The women have been meeting for the past two years, making lap quilts for others in the congregation, always by hand.
It’s ironic to Pinkerton that she had a hand in starting the club, even though she didn’t originally know a stitch about sewing.
Many others – those who once sewed regularly – are thankful she suggested the club.
Betty Ritchie had sewed for years as a young girl.
“Then I became a teacher, and my eyes were busy with papers,” said the now-retired teacher.
The club began shortly after Debbie Tyson’s mother was admitted for a long stay in the hospital.
“I made a bucket list when mom was in the hospital,” she said. “Quilting was on the list.”
“This is kind of your old-fashioned style of quilting,” said Robin Burrows. “The advantage of the lap-quilt technique is that you don’t need a sewing machine.”
Every other week, the women get together at the church. Each is in charge of at least one square for the quilt. They talk, laugh and sew, just the way Pinkerton remembers the women from her childhood.
She’s glad she finally had the opportunity to join in.
“When I finished my first square, I was so happy. I said ‘I did it! I did it!’ ”