Creole Quilters keeping heritage alive one stitch at a time _lowres

Advocate photo by Ruth Foote -- Creole Quilters, from left, Rebecca D. Henry, Monique Decquir Morgan, Linda Richard and Juanita Decquir work at the Creole Heritage Folklife Center recently. The Creole Quilters are reviving an ancestral tradition of women quilting and sharing stories together during a sunny afternoon at the Creole Heritage Folklife Center in Opelousas.

No story is off-limits for the Creole Quilters, and surely not their own, as the sun beams through the window pane onto their colorful world of fabric.

The nine-member group meets every other Saturday at the Creole Heritage Folklife Center on West Vine Street, keeping heritage alive one stitch at a time.

“My goal is not to just bring back a gathering of old women — because we have young and old members — but to capture the quilting again, to bring it to the forefront, ” said Rebecca D. Henry, who founded the quilting group.

For Henry, the daughter of a sharecropper who also started the Creole Heritage Folklife Center in Opelousas, making that commitment came easy because she is dedicated to keeping traditions alive.

When Henry formed Creole Quilters more than three years ago, she recruited women who shared her vision, including her granddaughter Nia Henry.

“They came willingly and eagerly,” she said. “They all had the same passion for quilting.”

Linda Richard, a retired nurse with a background in fine arts, came to the group after finding herself drawn to the sewing machine when she became bored with paintbrushes and canvas.

“Now, I’m addicted to hand sewing,” she said.

What she enjoys most about the quilting is the creativity, turning fabric into art.

In its short lifespan, the Creole Quilters’ legacy includes designing and creating a parish legacy — St. Landry’s square for the state’s bicentennial quilt, sewn to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Louisiana’s statehood in 2012.

The quilted square for St. Landry Parish is on display at the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission.

“They did a fabulous job,” said commission Executive Director Celeste Gomez, adding the Creole Quilters group was selected because of the cultural expertise of its members.

“A lot of work was involved,” Gomez said. “You could tell they were pros in doing it. It was amazing how all the squares fit. It’s a beautiful piece.”

Capturing the culture takes Henry back to when she was young, to where it all began.

“My mom and the women would gather at our home, and Mama had the loom set up—four planks tied to four chairs, and that was the loom,” she recalled.

The four chairs held the boards in place.

“They all sat around and quilted,” Henry said.

It was during such gatherings, the Creole Quilters say, that no stories were off-limits. Topics ranged from raising children, to changing patterns, to who the “bad lady” in the neighborhood was.

Richard recalls that French often was spoken to keep children ignorant of conversations that might include talk of mothers raising their grandchildren as their own so their unwed pregnant daughters would not be ostracized.

Henry remembers playing underneath the loom.

Those childhood memories are hand-stitched into the quilts she makes.

In those days, Henry said, quilters would throw in an old dress, a shirt, a piece of pants to make quilts.

And recently, Henry did likewise.

She found some old material among her mother’s belongings, and she’s bringing the material back to life, along with antique buttons, by hand-stitching them into a new design, into a new quilt.

Retired elementary teacher Juanita Decquir, of Grand Coteau, said she missed out on an opportunity to learn about her ancestors from her mother—Alberta Richard.

“We didn’t bother to learn because she was going to live forever,” Decquir said.

But that would never be.

The quilting club that Decquir’s mother belonged to, known originally as a craft club and organized for the neighborhood ladies, began dissolving as members died.

However, Decquir’s mother’s love for fabric art remained.

“She quilted until she died,” Decquir said.

Decquir paused for a moment, then reflected on those decades gone by, particularly how her mother and her cohorts met on a regular basis at one another’s homes because they enjoyed quilting.

They prepared meals, and they shared stories—the good and the bad.

And they quilted.