Weld County Women Weave Stories and Sewing for a Patchwork of Friends
By Georgia Wier
Originally published in the Weld County Past Times, October 17, 1998, Vol. 1, No. 3 pg T12
“It makes you feel good after you’ve done it.”
Coleen Hart, member of the Get-Together Club, explained why she and several other Weld County women spend hours at home sewing – or “piecing” – together blocks of fabric even before their monthly meeting to complete – or “tie” and “bind” – 20 or more lap robes.
After the meetings, club members deliver the beautiful and warm coverings to nursing homes or to other community members in need.
I joined the Get-Together Club for its October meeting two years ago in the home of member Katie Mitzel. Kate had readied her living and dining rooms by setting up two tables where members tied yarn knots attaching the decorative lap robe tops to a bottom layer of cloth.
Katie’s sister, Elsie Livengood, and club members Shirley Ashbaugh and Marie Schmidt kept two sewing machines in constant operation throughout the day. They sewed bindings around the edges of the club’s lap robes, giving each one a finished look and a well-wearing edge.
As folklorist for the City of Greeley Museums and the Colorado Council of the Arts, I wanted to find out about the backgrounds and the talents of the women who donated so much of their time and skills to their club project.
From Ann Hill, the youngest of Katie’s sisters, I learned about childhood responsibilities on the farms the family worked in Nebraska and later in Colorado. Kate and Ann both told about their mother’s sewing skills and love of “neat, pretty things.”
Despite her many essential tasks, their mother took the time to make dish towels from flour sacks and embroider each corner.
Because preparing meals is, like sewing, an important aspect of people’s cultural life – or “folklife” in the folklorist’s terminology – I asked the club members about their cooking experiences.
I heard about native Arkansan Stella Hazzard switching from Southern to German cooking after marrying a man of German-Russian descent and moving to Briggsdale.
I also heard about Patricia Wickstrom’s family’s recent interest in using recipes brought by a relative visiting from Sweden.
I soon had an opportunity to see concrete evidence of the club members’ experience in the kitchen.
As noon approached, the dining room table was cleared of its lap robe project and places set for at least 10 people. The hostess and her assistants brought out from the kitchen dishes that had been prepared by the club members.
After pausing to say grace, we passed around the ham, scalloped potatoes, potato salad, homemade strawberry jam, vegetables and a gelatin salad. The dessert course included a wonderberry pie – club members explained that the tiny berries can be raised on dry land.
While the group continued to sew and tack throughout the afternoon, I interviewed one another of the club members. I recorded their stories of the “big gamble” of farming and their accounts of quilting, music, dance, food and good times.
I learned that the Get-Together Club began in the Buckingham area in 1935 for visiting and pencil games. Later, the club began making layettes for soldier’s wives. In 1957, they started producing lap robes for nursing homes.
Some of the club members still live and work on their family farms, while others have moved off their ranches and farms and into homes in Greeley.
A few of the women have jobs off the farm. Shirley Ashbaugh drives a bus route for the Prairie School District, and Mildred Criswell sells quilts she makes through her daughter’s craft shop.
At 3:30 in the afternoon, club members stopped their work once more for a final chance to gather around the table. Before their trips home, they took one more opportunity to talk and joke and to taste one more dessert with their coffee.
By this time, Evelyn Schwisow had arrived to join her mother, Marie Schmidt, and to exchange news and reminiscences.
Elsie Livengood explained most clearly the club members’ attitudes toward each other: “we have a lot in common, and we just love one another. It’s just good fellowship.”