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For as long as I can remember, every Wednesday my mother, Shirley Keating, has been going to a sewing group she affectionately calls “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch.” My mom, the colorful lady she is, is the only one who refers to the group by that name.
It all began when I was in middle school and my brother was a freshman at Firestone High School. When my mom got involved as a band parent, she met Judy Lasher, Linda Sugarman and Charlotte Pollock.
Craft Club, as the other ladies call it, started out as a sewing group that repurposed and upcycled retired Firestone band uniforms to sell at band fundraisers. I have a band pillow proudly displayed in my bedroom and a “dammit doll” made from an old uniform that’s come in handy more often than any of them could have imagined (the uniform’s indestructible fabric makes it able to withstand quite the beating). Once the band uniforms were gone, the group decided to stay together, and they started making quilts for each other’s children.
I assumed this was a type of therapy for my mom as she could hang out with these women and complain about me and my brother, but early on I could tell it was much more than that. Judy invited us to attend several Passover dinners with her family and friends, which were quite exciting cultural events for me and my brother since we were raised Christian. When I was in college, Linda graciously offered to tutor me in accounting to keep me from tanking a second time. And Charlotte’s daughter Elyssa was my favorite lunch monitor of all time. I used to come home from second grade and tell my mom about Elyssa’s outfits because I loved them so much.
Among the four women, there are seven children, and I am the youngest. All the other children have reached the adult milestones of moving away, getting married and having children, and every time they’ve had one of these celebrations, they received a quilt. Over the past 17 years, this group estimates they’ve made about 20 quilts.
In 2010, when I heard of yet another baby being born and another quilt being made, I asked if I was ever going to get one. Since marriage wasn’t on the horizon nor was having a baby, I thought that kind of discrimination was a bit unfair. The ladies agreed, and the process of designing my quilt began.
We decided to find pictures that depict important things in my life or things that I love. My mother used rendering software on the pictures to make them look like pages from a coloring book, and the ladies used those patterns to design each square. Choosing the images for my quilt proved to be difficult as I’m incredibly indecisive, but I knew I wanted a lot of the designs to include Akron and my rescue dog, Cosmo.
I was also able to pick the fabric for my quilt. My mother and I went to Polka Dot Pin Cushion in Richfield, which is a magical fabric store. Within minutes of stepping inside, I picked the busiest, loudest, most colorful fabric they sold. I distinctly remember my mother trying to talk me out of it and looking at more practical options. I think she had an epiphany in the store because she gave me some solid decorating advice: If I like it now, I will like it years from now. I think she was trying to talk herself into the decision, but the advice rings true, and I just might be even more in love with the fabric now.
The quilt took more than three years to make, and during that time, I bugged my mom relentlessly with “When is my quilt going to be done?” It’s truly a piece of sentimental art, and I’m overwhelmed by the love and craftsmanship that was put into it. Every picture was hand embroidered, and no one knows better than Judy how difficult those squares were. She embroidered the square of the new UA Student Union, where I was a graduate assistant in the business office during my master’s program. That architecture is a marvel to look at, let alone stitch.
The ladies decided to have the quilt professionally quilted by Ohio Star Quilts in South Akron, which took about two months and was the perfect finish to their masterpiece. When my mother picked it up from Ohio Star, she was so excited she drove in a snowstorm to my office in Hudson to deliver the quilt to me. Because I work at the headquarters of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, I was given explicit instructions to show it off, at least to my co-worker who quilts and can appreciate the craftsmanship.
As braggadocio as it was, I loved showing everyone what my mom and her stitching group had spent all those years making for me. It tickled me when people could pick out the squares, such as the Chief Rotaynah sculpture in front of the former Fairlawn Elementary School, Stan Hywet, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, the church at Hale Farm (I’ve always said I’ll get married there), the Everett Clock at the intersection of Market and Main streets, the Everett Road Covered Bridge, Metro Parks’ maple leaf, Goodyear Blimp and more. Major points went to the co-workers who recognized the Burrito Buggy from my days at Ohio University in Athens.
I plan to use my quilt on my bed indefinitely, and I just dread the day when Cosmo throws up on it. When people come over, I show off my quilt and explain how my mom and the ladies made the squares. It kisses my heart to see how impressed and in awe people are with what this group of ladies has made for me. One of my girlfriends told me she was glad I use the quilt and don’t just have it on display.
Without a doubt, my quilt is the most valuable thing I own, and I’ll treasure it throughout my lifetime. Someday it will be old, maybe torn, and I imagine it on a grandchild’s bed, like the quilt I grew up with from my grandmother. This quilt, however, has built-in stories and a history that I hope is passed down through the generations and remains a Keating family heirloom. And I hope the legacy of the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch quilters will be carried on by their initials sewn onto the back of the quilt: SK, CP, JL, LS, 2013.
/ Writer Abigail Keating lives in Stow with her rescue dog, Cosmo, but they spend as much time as possible in West Akron.