Independence quilters stitch the final piece

08/31/2013 11:12 PM

08/31/2013 11:12 PM

A quilting club begun by a group of 30-something women during the mid-1970s when the U.S. bicentennial sparked a renewed interest in the craft, has hung its last show in Independence this Labor Day weekend.

Most of the women with the Independence Piece Makers are now in their late 70s, and what was once a group of 30 has dwindled to 10, leading to the discontinuation. But the vibrant colors and patterns of the 136 quilts hanging in the Roger T. Sermon Community Center through Monday show their minds and hands are still very active.

“It’s like reading a whodunit,” said Tess Owens, 80, who has 16 quilts hanging in the cavernous brick space that housed the boilers of an old power plant. “I’ve got to get it together, and look at it and try new techniques.

“I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.”

Jan Keeler, an organizer of the show, said it started in 1976, the year the country celebrated its 200th anniversary, in conjunction with the annual Santa-Cali-Gon festival held in nearby downtown Independence.

“It was started by a group of quilters who wanted to show their quilts, and quilting was beginning to come to the forefront in the mid-70s,” she said.

Over the years, the event has survived a leaky roof caused by heavy rains and the initial resistance to the introduction of machine quilting. It’s given the participants, mostly women, an opportunity to exercise their creativity as they come up with patterns and then assemble the colors and patterns of cloth to execute their visions.

One of the most elaborate quilts on display at the show, which runs today from noon until 6 p.m. and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is an image of a leaping bass snatching a passing dragonfly. It’s a mosaic made with 25,000 one-inch squares of cloth done by Rhonda Whitaker. The Sermon Center is at the southeast corner of Noland and Truman roads.

Keeler taught art for 32 years at a Fort Osage elementary school before retiring and said quilting displaced painting and pottery as her favorite mode of expression.

“It’s an opportunity to be creative, and women like doing hand-work,” she said. “The idea of putting colors and shapes together is appealing.”

Owens is being singled out for particular honor this year because of her longevity and enthusiasm. Her daughter Melissa Russell flew from her home in Alexandria, Va., bringing along a quilt she made with her mother. She was joined by another sister, Joy Horner of Independence, and a large group of friends and family to celebrate the event.

Quilting began as a necessity for Owens, who made quilts tied with yarn to provide covers for her children’s beds, but it evolved into a satisfying hobby.

“It’s a craft that you can do by yourself and you can teach yourself,” she said. “As my children grew up and I didn’t have as many responsibilities, I did it more and more.”

Owens accepts with regret this will be the last time she and the other Piece Makers will display their talents.

“I’ll miss it very much,” she said. “I’ve come every year since they started, but every year it seems like there are less and less of us.”

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