Every Thursday at Martha’s Table at the Commons, you can hear the light chatter and sound of sewing machines at work. At first glance, the gathering looks like a market of sorts with fabrics of all colors and sizes laid about on most of the surfaces in the room, surrounded by people examining the details of each while others are hard at work sewing pieces together. As you make your way in, members of the Quilt Corner greet you with a smile and fabric in hand.
The Quilt Corner is a collective of people with interest in learning how to quilt and expand the impact of quilting within the community at large through a deeper understanding of the Quilt Codes of the Underground Railroad. With multiple cohorts throughout the year, members meet every Thursday to learn about the patterns & techniques, history, and impact of quilting as the group creates a community quilt together. The Quilt Corner is led by Charlene Hursey and self-taught quilter Dr. Blanche Brownley, who started her quilting journey by watching how-to videos on Facebook and reading quilting books.
“The Quilt Corner is important because it is our way of honoring tradition and preserving our history. You don’t see much of that on display in many places. It would be nice if this tradition can be preserved so that our younger generations will have an opportunity to be inspired by and hopefully take an interest in making the quilts themselves.” -Matt Miller, Community Activator.
Quilters from the most recent cohort were sewing a community quilt that recreated patterns from historical quilts that were used as powerful communication tools during the Underground Railroad. Each pattern within a quilt represented specific instructions to enslaved people to guide them to freedom safely.
“Whenever enslaved people would see a quilt hanging on somebody’s house, and they were in the process of escaping, that was a signal to them that this was a safe house. The message was ‘you could come in, and we’ll take care of you.‘” -Dr. Blanche Brownley
To include the current community in this storied community quilt, the Quilt Corner incorporated Anacostia landmarks into it. Dr. Brownley spent time researching online and learning about Wards 7 and 8 to understand the rich history of the area and the prominent features of Anacostia. An image of Martha’s Table will be placed in the center, with other landmarks surrounding and the Log Cabin pattern bordering. To further replicate and honor the process, members share that because their ancestors quilted by hand during the Underground Railroad, they too are sewing by hand.
Once the Quilt Corner completes community quilts, they will be placed on display publicly through Martha’s Table. The next Quilt Corner cohort will begin Thursday, July 28, from 1 pm to 3 pm and will meet weekly at Martha’s Table at the Commons, 2375 Elvans Rd SE. The Quilter’s Corner is open to anyone in the District. Registration is required to attend. Register here.