The lost art of quilt making is taking on a new dimension with a group of North Lawndale residents who are using the art form to tell the history of their West Side community.
Members of the North Lawndale African American Heritage Quilting Project has been meeting for several weeks to curate stories about Black life in North Lawndale that goes beyond the 1968 race riots. The riots that occurred after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination leaving North Lawndale a burnt out shell of itself often defines the community.
But ReneauDiello remembers a North Lawndale that embodies the African proverb “it takes a village.” She remembers the block club parties that sometimes got started at midnight.
“Someone would ring your doorbell at midnight and ‘Say lets barbecue,'” recalled Diello, who lived in North Lawndale for 40 years before moving to the South Side when she got married.
“Everyone would come out in the back yard, and we had this pool that took a long time to fill [but] all the neighbors would run their hoses to the pool. It was just so much fun,” she recalled.
Stories like these are what, project manager, Valerie Leonard, wants to encapsulate in a six and half inch square block of fabric. The squares will be woven together to form a patch work quilt depicting the life and times of North Lawndale residents.
North Lawndale’s history is more than about the 1968 riots, Leonard said. The neighborhood produced a string of prominent residents like songstress Dinah Washington and jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis.
“We have a pretty solid history,” she said.
To tell that history, the project hosts several quilting meetings at the Better Boys Foundation, 1512 S. Pulaski, every Tuesday. There individuals get instructions on basic quilting techniques and embroidery stitches.
Then individuals can decorate the squares to reflect a family tree, famous people, neighborhood traditions or experiences between Jews, Blacks and Hispanic people – all whom settled in North Lawndale.
The project will use varying quilting styles from traditional quilt patterns such as log cabin or star pattern to form the quilt. Also the group plans to use mix-media such as painting, image transfer or crocheting to involve youth in the project. Depending on how many squares are created, the project may produce several wall size quilts.
“I’m looking for the quilt to be a hodgepodge of different quilt styles,” Leonard said. “You can transfer poems or bible verses – whatever people feel like they want to contribute. The sky is the limit.”
For Leonard, the project is about providing more arts and cultural opportunities, and also introducing people to quilting. In the black community, she said, quilting is a dying art form.
“This is a way to revive it. It’s also a way to provide an intergenerational activity to bring young and old together to “start breaking down barriers,” Leonard said.
The quilting workshop meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Better Boys Foundation, 1512 S. Pulaski Ave. The next meeting is Tuesday, October 11th.
For more information call, (773) 521-3137 or visit northlawndalequilting.blogspot.com