Part 1: Learning from the women of the quilting guild
By Danelle Woodman, Editorial Intern
Tucked away in Arcadia, female quilters uphold a longstanding American tradition Marilyn Brisendine describes as an art that is being lost to us. In a conversation of the Wandering Foot Quilt Guild she’s been a part of for 15-17 years, my perspective of quilting quickly changed. My initial assumption, and I’m sure many would agree, was that quilting is just a hobby people participate in when they get older. Brisendine, the community chairperson for the Guild, explained that for her, quilting with her lifelong friends has provided her a space to feel supported by women like her.
“What started the club was a group of women who were friends who wanted to get together to exchange their ideas about quilting,” she said when I asked her about the Guild’s origins. The goal of their organization is to teach quilting while giving back to the community. Their community outreach includes making caps for preemies (premature infants), blankets for chemo patients, quilts for kids and teenagers, and their biggest project: providing love and comfort through gifts and donations for the University of Southern California (USC) Medical center. “We give about 50-70 items a month to the USC medical center for low-income people with illnesses,” Brisendine explained.
Aside from their focus on giving back to the community, the Guild’s emphasis is on learning quilting and hand-work from each other. “All of us have something we’re good at,” she said. “And we use that to teach each other our different skills.” This includes new styles and patterns that each woman has learned on their own or through other women. Sometimes, the Guild invites outside speakers or guests to lead workshops where the women pay a fee and they set up tables and they all sew together.
Although the idea of quilting seemed daunting to me, Brisendine reassured me that regardless of my sewing skills, they welcome all who are interested in learning the craft. The best part? Joining the Guild is as easy as coming to a meeting. Brisendine explained that in the Guild, the women made an agreement that the culture of their organization is going to be open to new members at all times. “We formed a pact at one of our knitting group meetings and we said everybody is gonna be friendly and we’re going to welcome them,” Brisendine explained about how membership works for their organization. “It’s become so much more fun because we have members of different ages” she said.
The average age of the Guild’s members are 60-70 years old, however Brisendine said that that they hope to have younger participants so that the tradition of quilting is carried on. “Because the age span in our quilt group is about 40 years, we have learned and watched these other women,” Brisendine explained. “Now we’re here passing on our knowledge to the next generation.”
Because of their welcoming community, the Guild has been able to increase their numbers over the years. In her experience in previous guilds, Brisendine explained that she appreciates being a part of an organization that opens its doors to all who want to learn about quilting. For her and the Guild, providing a welcoming environment is crucial to creating a space for women who want to feel supported and a part of a community.
“I think the strength from all of this comes from the camaraderie that women can form. Women form much better forms of friendships than men, I think.” She laughed as she explained the success of the Guild. Those friends have transcend beyond the quilting circles these women are a part of. Many of the members coordinate family outings, they join outside clubs together, or they go shopping together for fabrics. “It does shape your identity as a woman because we’re learning all the time. We get lifetime friendships. My closest friends are those I’ve met in the guild.”
As the Guild continues to keep the art of quilting alive, Brisendine also hopes to share the importance of learning. Not just about quilting, but also about what it means to be a woman and building relationships with women. “My granddaughter is around your age, and she’s going to come to a meeting in May,” Brisendine said. “She’s not as interested in quilting, but I care more about her being aware of what the women [at the Guild] do and how we support each other. She learns by being there.”
Brisendine provided some helpful insight on the significance of women’s groups within our community. I have never been a part of a club or organization directed toward fellowship with women. (I think the closest I have come to the community described by Marilyn with women would be when I played volleyball in high school.) However, I think that I was sold on the idea of joining the quilting guild when she told me a story about how she felt the need to be a part of a quilting guild that is welcoming to all people rather than closed off to new members.
To have a group of women surround you and support you in times of joy, like the birth of one their member’s baby, and in times of difficulty, like the death of a husband, is true friendship. To know that the women you have in your life will always call to check up on your grandson who had a cold, is true community. From this experience, I learned that when women come together to form groups around a common interest, they are able to share in the beauty of womanhood. All of which comes with being a member of the Wandering Foot Quilt Guild.
If you’re interested in joining the Guild or a friendship group or both, go to wanderingfootquiltguild.org for more information.