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Blessed are the Piecemakers

Sue Voisel decided she needed a hobby a few years ago, when she and her husband made plans to retire on 30 acres of property with a cabin they had bought in north Summit 20 years earlier.

They were living in Harvey, Louisiana, and owned an oil field-related business.

Voisel, a longtime seamstress, was walking along a New Orleans street one day and ran across a quilting shop. She signed up for lessons, and joined the Brookhaven Piecemakers Quilt Guild after making the move to Lincoln County.

She found she loved quilting and camaraderie “with some of the most wonderful ladies.” Members of the guild had encouraged Voisel and a few other members to enter quilts at the prestigious Pigeon Forge Quilt Show in March, where some 700 quilts were entered in different categories.

“The show has some of the most spectacular work, with women and men designing and sewing and putting together their quilts,” Voisel said.

Voisel accepted the Mountain Heritage Challenge, a contest to show off the rich heritage of the Smoky Mountains. Contestants had to use a fourth of a yard of the same fabric and incorporate designs for the show’s 25th anniversary.

“I called it ‘Twilight in the Smokies,’ and they liked it,” she said of her quilt. “I’m still overwhelmed that I won.”

Voisel won a $2,000 prize. The City of Pigeon Forge now owns her quilt, “and I can go to the welcome center and see it and a plaque with my name on it,” she said. Her quilt may also be displayed at special events and possible at the state capital building in Tennessee.

From tradition to new techniques

Many Baby Boomers can remember sleeping under a quilt made by their grandmother. Back in the day, women would set up a quilting rack in someone’s home and would gather and work together to make quilts, sewing all the stitches by hand.

Early quilters came up with names for their patterns, such as the Flying Geese, a pattern Voisel chose for her award-winning quilt.

Some women, such as a few in the Brookhaven Piecemakers, still have a rack they use to complete their quilts, stitching the finished patterns of small squares sewn onto the top, with batting in between a bottom layer.

Back in the day, a quilting room often doubled as a bedroom. People would raise their rack at night and sleep under it while a quilt was under construction.

Trends in quilting now include different techniques and the use of sewing machines made large enough to handle the bulky fabric of a quilt.

Voisel said it didn’t take long to make her winning quilt, which was not full size, but had to be 200 inches in diameter and use reproduction fabric. “The longest part was trying to come up with a design and getting your fabrics to coordinate correctly,” she said.

Judges lauded her quilt for its traditional look. “They said they could actually envision it in an old cabin in the Smoky Mountains years ago,” Voisel said.

Why she quilts

Tradition is what attracted Voisel to making quilts. The tradition has long been a way to provide warmth, handmade designs and memories for family members in cold winter months.

“I enjoy creating things that my family absolutely loves,” said Voisel. She has three children and eight grandchildren, and she’s made a quilt for each of them. She’s already working on Christmas quilts for them as well.

Her children and grandchildren are at different stages of life. One grandchild, for instance, is getting ready to go off to college and will have a comfy quilt with memories to take with her.

“I guess it’s my way of creating something and leaving my family something lasting from me — a hobby that touches my spirit. Taking up quilting seemed like a good way to use my seamstress skills. I had no idea when I started this what a wonderful hobby it would be. I’m just sorry I didn’t start it long ago.”

From city life to rural life

Voisel had at first wondered how she would adjust from living in the metropolitan New Orleans area and moving to the rural area where she and her husband had enjoyed trips to their cabin in Lincoln County.

The couple made the move after selling their oil field-related business to a daughter, making it a third-generation business.

Voisel knew she would enjoy the natural beauty of the rural north Summit area. But what would she do with her time?

She said her husband immediately settled in, enjoying his “man-toys, like tractors and such.”

“Coming from the New Orleans area, I was surprised when we moved to Lincoln County and found such a large, active quilting guild here,” Voisel said.

Voisel joined the Brookhaven Piecemakers Quilt Guild about three years ago, and quilting became her passion. “I’ve met the most wonderful ladies,” she said. “We have a good time and learn fun, new skills.”

She is among 49 guild members who meet at the Church of the Nazarene in Brookhaven the second Monday of each month. The guild offers programs that allow quilters to enhance their skills. And it’s as much of a socializing event as it was in the old days, Voisel said. Members often stay after the program ends to “visit and sew,” and some members who no longer quilt show up to visit and share their knowledge, she said.

Before Voisel’s big award, she had entered quilts at shows in Hattiesburg and Lucedale, winning an award at the Lucedale show.

“I would have never submitted a quilt in a show if it hadn’t been for the Piecemakers Guild,” she said.

Voisel doesn’t seek attention, but she is deserving of attention, said Thomas Ann Gatlin, guild president. “She is such a good person, and she is so humble about her winning quilts,” Gatlin said.

Guild has charitable projects

While some quilts at shows are more artistic than functional, the Brookhaven guild also makes quilts and other handmade items for charitable projects. Last year, the guild donated quilts, dresses and shorts to the Hosanna Lutheran Church in Mandeville, Louisiana, Gatlin said. The church donates over 400 quilts and other items each year to hospices, nursing homes and children’s homes in the Mandeville area, as well as to a mission in Africa. The Brookhaven guild’s quilts were sent to a mission in Guatemala, while girls’ dresses and children’s shorts were sent to a mission in Africa.

The guild’s focus this year is more on local charity projects, Gatlin said. So far, the guild has given comfort quilts to women with serious medical issues, and recently made 100 stuffed frogs, 8 inches long, for hospitalized children. About 20 women worked all day to make the frogs, Voisel recalled.

The guild will display its quilts through July 26 at Gardensong Fabrics as the business celebrates its anniversary. An open house will be 1-4 p.m. and two quilters will be named Viewer’s Choice winners. Voting is in-store and online.

The fabric store, known for its whimsical patterns, is at 1888 East Lincoln Road Southeast in Brookhaven.

 

Story by Robin Eyman