By Karim Shamsi-Basha
My grandmother sewed blankets, quilts, shirts, dresses and pants. (Well, let’s not talk about the pants – the source of my seventh-grade humiliation and a scar I carry in adulthood.)
Then there were the quilts.
My goodness! Hers were a work of art!
Quilting must be a requirement when you enter that golden age. When you love on your grandbabies and feed them chocolate for breakfast, but give them back to their parents when you’re tired.
Lillis Taylor isn’t a grandmother or in her golden years, but she gets to feed on the sweetness of grandmothers and bask in their warmth as if it was a quilt.
Tucker leads the mission of Bib & Tucker Sew-Op in Woodlawn.
Upon entering a cheery and light-filled room, I was greeted by a few grandmothers sitting around a table and making quilts. How did I know they were grandmothers? It says so, in the soft wrinkles on their fingers cutting small squares of material and sewing them together. In their smiles, in the way their eyes are gentle when they look up, and in the stories (because Southern ladies don’t gossip) that they share.
“Bib & Tucker is British slang for a woman’s finest clothes,” Taylor explained. “Back in the day, a woman would wear the same blouse and the skirt, but would embroider bibs and tuckers on them to make them fancier.”
Bib & Tucker Sew-Op is a community cooperative that helps Woodlawn display its finest through sewing.
“We have the mission of cultivating skills for those who sew or want to sew, ages 9 to 99,” Taylor said. “Everyone can be a teacher or a student. We also have a vision of creating a cottage industry of textile and manufacturing here in Birmingham.”
Taylor grew up surrounded by her grandmother’s quilts. She worked hard to learn how to sew, and took it seriously in 2009 when involved in a community art project. Then the story of the Alabama’s Gee’s Bend quilters went mainstream and Taylor’s love for quilting, sewing and textiles matured into what it is today.
“The joy I feel coming to Bib & Tucker, it’s something that is deep inside each of us, this nostalgia,” she said. “It’s like sitting around with a bunch of grandmothers. We talk about politics and religion and all the things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite society. We do it anyway, while creating beautiful and functional art.”
Members of the Bib & Tucker Sew-Op attend on Tuesday mornings and stitch their dreams and vision into tangible art. It was easy to imagine the legacies these grandmothers are knitting lasting for generations upon generations.
“When we started, we made 10 quilts and donated them to the Woodlawn YMCA shelter,” Taylor said. “We taught the women how to make quilts, and by the 10th quilt most of them were proficient. The thing that unifies us is that everyone has a passion for sewing and quilting.”
Next time you seek warmth at night, remember the heart, soul and gentle touch that went into the making of your quilt. To feel warm inside, remember your grandmother or the authenticity of those gathered at the Bib & Tucker Sew-Op.
To learn more, donate or volunteer, visit http://www.bibandtuckersewop.org