Florida proved to be much warmer than New York, where Valerie Valle’s dad was a state trooper.
Retirement in Florida meant not only a move from a hectic career but a slower way of life, one that allowed leisure lounging in flannel pajamas. Not to mention trading the police uniform for a wardrobe of T-shirts and shorts.
T-shirts bearing funny pictures and slogans at that.
“It was his trademark,” Valle said.
“He wore those T-shirts all the time, and after he died, I went to my mom’s house and gathered all the T-shirts, along with his flannel pajamas.”
Valle will return the shirts and pajamas to her mother in December but in a different form.
“I thought this would be a great memorial to my dad,” she said, standing beneath a large quilt.
It’s among the Sassi Strippers Quilt Guild’s 74 quilts and textile pieces on exhibit in Jones Creek Regional Library. The show is the guild’s second at the library, where it meets the fourth Thursday of each month to talk about quilting and sewing methods and discuss new projects.
One of those projects came to fruition on this particular Saturday, when guild members staged a demonstration of their work, then presented a set of 15 quilts to Habitat for Humanity and Brave-Heart Children in Need, Inc.
“We choose two charities each year and make quilts for them,” Valerie Barth said. Barth handles public relations for the guild.
“This year, we chose Habitat for Humanity and Brave-Heart for our project,” Barth said. “So, we have 74 pieces on display in this exhibit, but that’s not counting the 15 quilts we’re donating to the two charities.”
Now, think about that number. Representatives of the two charities had to think about it for a moment.
They were given two quilts each to take with them, and they’ll receive the rest of the quilts when the exhibit comes down.
The charities expected to walk away with one, maybe two quilts. But seven or eight quilts each? But there they are, arranged on the library’s main display wall, installed to appear as if they’re blowing in the wind.
Above the charity project quilts hang those created by individual guild members.
“Actually, our quilts are hanging throughout the library,” Barth said. “We hung them only in the main area last year, but the other parts of the library wanted to display quilts this year. So, we hung some behind the desk and some in the children’s area.”
Some quilts even hang among the stacks.
But Valle’s quilt hangs among those in the main display area. She calls it a T-shirt quilt, and even those who never met her dad can get to know him by viewing this quilt. One side features large blocks highlighting the fronts of Valle’s dad’s T-shirts. They’re framed by blocks cut from his flannel pajamas. The reverse side is made of material with a police-themed print.
“We had to put one of the T-shirts on the back of the quilt,” Valle said.
“The quilt would have been huge otherwise.”
It works. In fact, it works well, because viewers can’t help smiling when reading the T-shirts.
“Joe Six Pack for President,” one shirt block says. Another shows the “Peanuts” cartoon strip’s Snoopy backed by the slogan, “Friends Make Life a Party.”
Valle smiles. She can’t help it. Her dad’s personality is woven throughout this quilt.
“It was a little emotional when I was making it, but it’s a good thing for my mom,” she said. “My mom’s only seen it in pictures. She can’t wait to get it.”
While Valle reminisces about her dad, guild members invite members of the public to try out their skills at a sewing machine around the corner. The quilt being constructed in these sessions eventually will become one of the guild’s charity projects.
Creating rounded pieces called yo-yos at the table next to the sewing machine is guild member Dee Jeffers. No, she isn’t working on a quilt at this demonstration, though she has worked on quilts in the past.
“I like doing things fast,” she said. “This isn’t quilting, but it’s sewing.”
The end result is nothing less than fun, especially for kids entering the library. The display case at the entrance is filled with Jeffers’ pieces, many of them children’s toys whose arms and legs are assembled from the yo-yos.
Now, yo-yo in this case doesn’t refer to the stringed toy. A yo-yo in sewing is a gathered circle of fabric.
“The material doesn’t even have to be in the shape of a circle to make a yo-yo,” Jeffers said. But circles are the dominate shape.
Yo-yos became popular in the 1930s and 1940s. They’re used to make bedspreads, quilts and, in Jeffers’ work, the arms and legs of monkeys, along with the eight legs of the toy spider that sits on the table next to her canister filled with handmade yo-yos.
Yo-yos, however, won’t be found on her Matryoshka dolls, also known as Russian nesting dolls. Jeffers’ dolls fit one inside the other, as do traditional nesting dolls. The difference is, her Matryoshka dolls are cut and sewn from material, which makes each set an original art piece.
The same can be said for guild member Jan Delgehausen’s quilted Christmas ornaments, bowls and gift boxes. Each is different, each has a personal touch.
This is also something incorporated into guild member Merlene Lewis’ work. She sits next to fellow guild member Karol Guidry, each embroidering separate quilt blocks. Some of the blocks are embroidered in blue thread, others in red thread. The blue blocks are called blue work; the red blocks are red work. But it’s the embroidery that’s so personal here. Lewis began working with embroidery when she was a child.
“It was so relaxing,” Lewis said. “It’s still relaxing. And it’s creative. Karol and I are neighbors. When I moved to Baton Rouge from New Orleans two-and-a-half years ago, the guy who we bought the house from said there was a quilter living next door.”
There also was a quilter living around the corner, and both were members of the Sassi Strippers Quilt Guild. The guild currently has 23 members and is always open for more.
“You don’t have to know how to sew to join,” Barth said. “Everyone is welcome.”
But Lewis knew how to sew, and she and Guidry have incorporated their embroidery skills into several quilts in this exhibit and demonstration.
The quilts are more than bed covers or wall hangings. They reflect the personalities of their makers, as well as those who eventually will own them.
Valle knew this when making her dad’s T-shirt quilt. And her mom will experience this upon receiving the quilt come Christmas.