WATSON — They call themselves the Piecemakers.
These 15 to 20 women gather most Wednesdays in the Family Life Center at Live Oak United Methodist Church to make quilts for people who need some special warmth and comforting.
In the 10 years since its founding, the group has made some 3,000 quilts.
They have made quilts for residents of veterans’ homes in Jackson, Pineville and Reserve; children’s homes in Monroe and New Orleans; young patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.; residents of a homeless mission in New Orleans and Generations Hospice patients in Livingston Parish.
“’We used to make them to give to hospice patients at Christmas,” Juanita Cowart said. “But they asked us to give them to patients who enter hospice, since some don’t live to Christmas.”
A physician on a mission trip to Romania asked if the Piecemakers could send a few quilts to the patients there.
“We bundled them up and sent them,” said Doug Corkern, whose wife, Dolores, is a Piecemaker.
“They are spread all around,” Cowart said.
This summer has been spent making quilts for the church’s College and Career Group to take to tornado victims in Joplin, Mo.
The idea of Joplin came to Terrie Crosby, wife of the Rev. Mark Crosby, pastor at Live Oak.
“She said she woke up one morning, and it just came into her head,” Dolores Corkern said.
Terrie Crosby contacted the head of the Red Cross in that area, who turned out to be a member of a Methodist church.
When they brought the idea to the Live Oak youth group, the young people said they had been thinking about Joplin, too.
Juanita Cowart arrives at the church about 5:30 a.m. each Wednesday and begins setting up the group’s five quilt frames. She puts backing, batting and a quilt top on each frame.
Most of the quilters are at their posts by 8 a.m.
They tie neat, even knots at each point where the fabric squares meet. These hold the three layers together.
Treissie Tate threads the needles for the knotters whose eyes no longer see the small needle holes. At 94-1/2, Tate doesn’t even need a needle-threader.
“I thread the needles for all the young ladies. I’m so thankful the Lord gave me the sight,” she said. “I feel like I’d be letting the Lord down if I didn’t come do it.”
Tate lives alone and does all her own cooking. “I do a lot of things other people can’t do,” she said.
When the groups working on the frames finish a section, someone calls for the two or three retired husbands who are sitting on the sidelines drinking coffee and talking. The men turn the quilts on the frames.
After all the knots are tied, the quilts are moved to the church kitchen, where, one at a time, Piecemakers pin on a binding.
In the final step, one of the members, usually Cowart, stitches the binding on the group’s heavy-duty Singer sewing machine.
The fabric squares are sewn by machine into quilt tops by several group members at their homes. Clara Ellis once made five quilt tops in one week, but generally she does about two.
Most of the quilts are backed with twin sheets. Sue Coleman is the group’s “ripper.” She rips the hems out of all the sheets.
Most of the Piecemakers are widows. Not all are members of Live Oak Methodist.
“That doesn’t keep you from tying a knot or sewing,” Cowart said.
Dolores Corkern says the project started, when a church member said she had two quilt tops that needed finishing.
Corkern said she wouldn’t finish the quilts but would help the member do the work. The plan was to complete the quilts and to donate them to a children’s home in Ruston, where the church member and her two brothers had stayed after their mother died.
Corkern called the home and found that there were 92 children in the home.
“I said, ‘You can’t go to Ruston with two quilts,’” she said. “We’ve got 92 quilts to make.”
She called the church pastor and Cowart, and the project was off and running.
The women average five to 10 quilts a week. That’s a lot of fabric, batting and sheets.
“We get a lot donated,” Dolores Corkern said.
After Hurricane Katrina, a quilt shop in Gulfport, Miss., closed and sent two truckloads of material to the Piecemakers.
Members also make and sell quilts for donations to the church. They use the money to buy fabric.
They get a church discount at Hancock Fabrics and Hobby Lobby. They use coupons from local newspapers for additional discounts.
Everyone is on the lookout for fabric.
“When one door closes, another opens with material,” said Cowart, who believes that there’s nothing like the feeling she gets when the Piecemakers give away the quilts.
“It’s something to see. They tell us stories about their Mamas and when they were kids,” she said. “The pay is not good, but the benefits are out of this world.”
“We have people who take these quilts with them to the grave, in the casket,” Annie Taylor said.
Cowart recalled a visit to the veteran’s home in Reserve. She put a quilt at the foot of the bed of a bedridden veteran.
In a weak voice, the veteran asked her if she would open the quilt and put it over him.
“Of course,” she said to the veteran, who thanked her so sincerely for the quilt.
“On, no,” she said. “Thank you for what you did for us and for our country.”