Stitching Together a Plan: Quilting Meetings Take Off

“When you sew, it is an art form,” says Carla Pittman. “It is a skill that can give you not only income, but comfort.”

Carla Pittman has been sewing since the time she was a child. Being that she can make a wide variety of things, from clothing to curtains to quilts, she knows how useful this skill can be. Carla sees sewing as more than a hobby or a way to pass the time –– she sees it as a potential way for others to build up themselves and each other. That is why she has started attending Thunder Valley CDC’s quilting meetings.

“I have really high hopes for this,” she says. “I think that there is an opportunity to create a pathway for young people to learn skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.”

The meetings, hosted by Thunder Valley CDC's Social Enterprise Program, began as sharing sessions where quilters discussed their ideas, techniques and skills. This month, the meetings also included an educational component. Skilled quilters taught community members interested in learning about quilting the basics of constructing a star quilt.

Star quilts are iconic within Lakota communities. Their distinctive pattern is bold yet clean, with sharp lines that reach out to form a star. Diamond shapes are stitched together to create a pattern that is recognizable no matter the color combination. And since star quilts are used for wide array of events –– honorings, new babies, graduations, funerals –– the pattern’s versatility is fitting.  

“I miss the community aspect of sewing a quilt,” says Carla. “Like when a whole group of us would come together to finish a quilt if someone passed away –– we would all come together and in that we’d find comfort and healing. But the days when people would sew and quilt feels like a bygone era that I think we save and pass on to the next generation.”

Carla isn’t alone in this thought. The group is already envisioning a number of next steps, including more quilting lessons and eventually an employee owned quilting business. The hope is that by creating a local hub for quilters, partnering with local financial institutions, and increasing local availability of quilting and sewing resources, there will be more dollars staying in the local economy.

“We don’t even have any place people can buy fabric down here,” says Carla. “So people drive somewhere else to buy fabric, but we should have our own resources here. I don’t think people realize how useful that would be, not only for quilting, but also for everyday things too.”

But beyond the economic need, Carla also thinks there is an element of individual empowerment to teaching others how to sew.

“I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I don’t know if young people these days can even sew on a button. If they knew how to sew and quilt, they could use that skill in so many different ways –– making curtains for their house, hemming their clothes or refitting them –– and if they know the star pattern they could use that not only for quilts to sell but even on things like diaper bags and jackets.”  

It is the hope of the quilting group, which has named itself Owíŋža (quilt), that they will revitalize not only quilting and sewing as common skills, but also provide people with more control over their futures.

“I could just continue doing my own thing, but I think it’s important that if I have these skills, I should be sharing them. So that’s why I am participating,” says Carla. “When I look at the young mothers out there struggling to find work, I just think this skill could really change their lives and give them a pathway. And I really hope that is what we succeed in doing.”