The Colorful History of the Redding Methodist Church Quilt
● By Richard DuPertuis
Stitched in TimeApril 2016
Story ad Photos by Richard DuPertuis
A large quilt hangs in the Fireside Room at Redding Methodist Church. It bears a history as unique and colorful as its stitched squares, which depict the Methodist cross and flames surrounded by mountain scenery. Three shades of green form pine trees. A marbled purple and red pattern shapes two mountains, each topped with a triangle of solid snow white. Above them all spans a sky of several shades of blue.
This quilt exists because of a mishap that occurred more than 15 years ago. After a planned activity fell through, a member of the congregation volunteered to come up with something to occupy attendees of a 2001 church retreat near the shores of Lake McCumber. He happened to be a professional quilter, and he improvised a project that would coordinate the efforts of perhaps 50 men, women and teenagers to create not only a lasting work of art, but a tangible example of the church way.
“The theme was When Life Gives You Scraps,” says Virginia Erickson, a seasoned church member with salt-and-pepper hair. “We put together the squares. There were several old sewing machines, and he gave us some instruction.” She didn’t need much, adding with a laugh, “I worked as a teacher, in home ec. I taught girls and boys how to sew.”
But, she says, most participants had never sewn anything in their lives. And none of them knew what the finished quilt was going to look like – except the designer, who afterwards turned the sewn pieces into a quilt at home.
“I’d never done anything like that before,” says Don Linn. “It was a real seat-of-the-pants thing. I designed what was going to be the quilt on graph paper, then colored it in. I put the respective pieces of fabric in Ziploc bags with a diagram of just that portion of the quilt, and we handed those out to teams of four, if memory serves me correctly.”
Recently, Methodist churchgoers have been straining their memories to recall their individual roles in the creation of the quilt. Interest in the prized possession was renewed when the library committee announced that it was hosting a display of fiber arts between services on April 17, and that the quilt would be the centerpiece for the reception.
“It was outside, a nice day,” says Erickson’s husband Jim. “After the sewing was done, they sent us out on a hike or something. At the end of the day they had the pieces pinned together, hanging on a line between trees. It was gorgeous.”
“All I remember is that I was not a good seamstress,” recalls Shirley Steinberg. “Somehow I pricked my finger on the needle of the machine. I gave my life’s blood to that quilt.”
Shirley Lyon says she helped hand out the zip-top bags, which also included a piece of heavier, white fabric cut the size of a finished portion. “For backing,” she explains. “And people used it to sign their names.”
Lyon and Erickson lift the quilt away from the wall far enough to get behind it, and to see the numerous white patches on the back signed by all the quilters. Many rectangles are decorated with graffiti, doodles and some skilled illustration. The women turn their attention to the front of the quilt, Lyon bending to examine the river, Erickson brushing her fingertips high on the cross. Fifteen years gone, no one can remember what portion of the artwork they contributed.
“The point of the whole thing is supposed to hit you on two levels,” says Director of Ministry Peggy Rebol. “One, the physical quilting: We took things that seemed to be unrelated, and it turned out to be something beautiful. Spiritually, our lives are woven together from parts – family and events.”
The finished quilt hung from the balcony in the sanctuary for a few years before being presented in 2004 to the departing minister, Bill Stegall, as a retirement gift. Stegall’s wife, Mary, says they kept it at their place in Shingletown until they moved out, and lacking room for such a large item, returned it to the church.
Mary and Bill were among those who sewed pieces for the quilt at Camp McCumber that year. “We were amazed at what we had created. It was more than arts and crafts. It was about what we could do by working together.”