Karla Evangeline Frye

It’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon, and the thunder, lightning and downpour are no match for the steady hum of sewing machines and cacophony of conversations filling the room at the Sankofa Cultural and Art Wellness Village.

It’s a large room filled with an eclectic mix of chairs, sofas and loveseats arrayed around an old wool rug. There’s even an old restaurant foyer banque against one wall. It gives the feel of an eccentric old great aunt’s home.

In that atmosphere, a group of older black women, ages 50 to 82, quilt. And talk. And laugh.

The women, part of the Sankofa Cultural and Art Wellness Village Summer Camp for Adults over 50, have bonded and grown in knowledge of quilting, each other, and life. And although founder Paulette Sankofa envisioned similar outcomes for this and other classes, what has blossomed in this group has even outpaced her own imagination.

“The quilting group has taken over,” Sankofa said.

With conversations touching topics ranging from personal life events such as death, raising children, and former careers to current events, the state of the community and country and the latest entertainment news, the room is electric.

The instructor, Cheryl Brown Smith marvels at how the history of quilting touches home for many of the women. 

A woman named Vaughn said she welcomed the structured activity.

“I’m not used to getting out. I sit at home all day every day, doing nothing,” Vaughn said. “This is definitely a good thing for me.”

Vaughn noted that she had no experience with quilting or sewing. The first day she observed, “getting used to what was going on,” but Vaughn has since learned quickly, stitching together bright strips of material, exchanging materials and ideas with the other women, and becoming comfortable with both hand stitching and machine sewing.

“I look forward to getting up every day and getting out,” Vaughn said with a smile. “I am so glad I’ve met all these people.” 

Karla Evangeline Frye is a senior consultant and writer in St. Louis.

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