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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Heritage Awards

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Cherry Quilt
Photo by KEVA

Close-up, Cherry Quilt
Photo by KEVA

The Quilters of St. Mary's Church
1989 awardee, Lake Leelanau (Leelanau County), quilters

The Quilters of St. Mary's Church in Lake Leelanau have worked as a group since the 1920s. Both quilting and church participation were long-established practices in the county. Many area quilters gathered neighbors to help them finish their quilts; they often made two identical quilts, donating one to the church and keeping the other for family use. Originally drawn together at these all-day quilting bees, members of The Quilters of St. Mary's Church learned piecing and quilting as young girls from mothers and grandmothers who were among Leelanau County's first white settlers.

Organized as a quilting group around 1928, St. Mary's Quilters met weekly in members' homes at first, later in the Lake Leelanau school, then in the church basement. In the 1950s and 1960s, the group numbered more than 40 active members, and their weekly meetings frequently needed three quilting frames to accommodate all the workers. An average quilting meeting took several hours and included a potluck meal. Occasional card games served as respites from the painstaking, precise needlework, and one member recounted that quiet afternoons of quilting were highlighted when tiny, elderly Martha Plamondon perched on a stool and sang Polish and American songs.

Members of St. Mary's Quilters estimate they have made more than 1,000 quilts for raffles or as door prizes for a variety of parish functions in the last 60 years. Many of their quilts incorporate appliqued designs featuring cherries, the major crop of the region. Although age and the increase in the number of women who need to work outside the home have diminished their number in recent years, the quilters still actively pursue their quilting and provide a source of income for parish and school. Their quilts are well known in the county, and their familiar Cherry Quilts are available for sale to the public every spring. Today as in the past, The Quilters of St. Mary's Church concentrate their efforts on producing functional quilts--warm washable bed covers intended for daily use.

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