Quilting proves to be family's 'glue'

April 05, 1999

By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: DON AINES

WARFORDSBURG, Pa. - When Lucille Shaw died two years ago, she left behind a legacy that has helped four generations of her family remain tightly knit.

She left them feed sacks.

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Gathered around tables placed end-to-end in the dining room of Robert and Helen Layton's farmhouse, more than a dozen descendants of Shaw hunch over tiny squares of brightly colored fabric they are sewing into quilts, a skill Shaw practiced during her 96 years.

"After she passed away ... we just didn't get together," Helen Layton, 58, said as a roomful of relatives sewed and laughed and chatted in the next room. "The glue of our family was gone."


The children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a great-great-granddaughter of Lucille Shaw are sticking together these days, thanks to the dozens of feed sacks she left behind.

Going back more than a century, feed sacks often served two purposes: The contents fed the livestock and the cotton sacks clothed the farm family.

Once adorned with brand names and pictures of pigs and chickens, the sacks eventually were decorated with colorful patterns and prints as companies used the method as a way to attract customers. They became the raw material for dresses, skirts, shirts and quilts.

"Mom used to have to go along to buy the feed because she picked the sacks out," Gerald Shaw, 67, of Hancock, Md., said.

"It was just like going to the fabric shop nowadays," Layton said about her mother's trips to the former Breakall's Mill and Angle Feed and Lumber Co. in Hancock.

"Some of these sacks are as old as I am," Layton said.

As children grow up, move away and raise children of their own, families can drift apart. "It's strange how in some families everybody goes a different direction," Gerald said.

Earlier this year Layton came up with the idea of bringing the family together each week to work on individual quilts.

Although she and her mother made quilts, none of the others had, according to Layton. "Before she passed away, she fussed that no one wanted to learn any of this," Layton said.

Each week they try and complete one square of their quilts. Layton figures it will take a year or more for them to complete the task from the 11,900 patches cut from the feed sacks.

"I've seen my aunts and uncles more in the past two months than in the last two years," said Helen's daughter, Tina Miller, of Warfordsburg

"It's more of a social club. We do more sewing at home than here," Tina said.

Lucille's Feedsack Quilt Club reads a banner above the tables.

The members of this exclusive club include Helen and Gerald's sisters, Evelyn Heiser, 78, of York, Pa., Laura Creek, 71, of Hancock, and Bonnie Ward, 64, of Warfordsburg.

Their children and two more generations complete this sewing circle. Alana Lucille Miller, 8, of Warfordsburg, a great-granddaughter of Lucille Shaw, is the youngest, although Chelsea Kauffman, 9, of York, is a great-great-granddaughter.

"I just got started. This is my second week," said Kay Scriever of Altoona, Pa. Like many of the adults in the quilting club, she and her husband Gary are retired.

For Michelle Golden, this is her first attempt at hand sewing. The 12-year-old Warfordsburg girl said she used a sewing machine to make a vest for a competition last year.

"I won second place, too," she added.

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