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Novices and experts warm up to quilting sessions at Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands Senior Center

Arnetta Ross, a member of the quilting and craft group at the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands Senior Center, works on her African-themed quilt July 27.
Arnetta Ross, a member of the quilting and craft group at the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands Senior Center, works on her African-themed quilt July 27. (Photo by Noah Scialom, Patuxent Publishing)

Quilting, for generations, has been more than just a means to make something to ward off a winter chill.

It's also a opportunity to build friendships, as a small group of women have found during their weekly lessons at the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands Senior Center.

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Patient hands held crochet hooks or guided fabric through a sewing machine as the seniors chatted and joked in a small activity room at the center, located at 424 3rd Avenue.

As she crocheted a pink and gray tote bag for herself, Lansdowne resident Marylee Powers described how she has made afghans, socks, sweaters, booties and even a stuffed moose.

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Nearby lay one of her latest projects, colorful pieces of fabric containing images and sayings from nursery rhymes that she was sewing into a book for her 3-month-old great-grandson, Cameron.

"I like the idea that out of nothing you make something," she said. "It's amazing the things you find that you can do that you never thought of."

The women share ideas and patterns, she said.

"We just do whatever strikes us," she said.

Powers joined the group 10 years ago to learn how to quilt and said "the friendliness" keeps her coming back.

Seniors bring their own materials and pay $2 for the classes, which are held year round from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the senior center.

Relay resident JoAnn Dixon has taught the group for about a dozen years.

Dixon said she became interested in sewing and the needle arts as a child and has been quilting for 30 years.

"I just like to see all the colors and shapes come together," Dixon said. "It's a rewarding experience to stand back and look at your work.

"Plus, if you're creative, it's just a great way to use your time wisely," she said.

During one afternoon last month, Lakeland resident Patsy Ross worked on an African-themed quilt that included a hand-stitched map of the continent, pictures of elephants and lions, and squares of wild animal prints.

Ross has been quilting since 2004, when she first started learning the skill at the center.

"I love meeting people and making different things," she said.

At another table, Karen Gaines worked on a bright square of yellow fabric with glittery butterflies — the beginnings of her first quilt.

"I've been to the Amish country," said the Glen Burnie resident, who joined the group in October. "The quilts there are just so beautiful.

"And if I could do one half as good as some of those that I've seen, I'd be happy," she said. "So that's sort of inspired me."

The women of the quilting circle were also a motivating factor for her.

"You get to see some of the things that they're doing and have done, and it's amazing," she said. "Sweaters and vests, and slippers, and sweaters for dogs. Just a lot of nice, neat, little things."

Pausing between the "rat-a-tat" of her sewing machine, Baltimore City resident Jane Khattak, peered closely at her work to make sure the thread wasn't getting tangled as she created a reversible pillow case.

Along with working on call at a medical center and at a city homeless shelter, Khattak, a retired social worker, said the quilting group provides a way to keep her days busy.

"We have a bond here," she said about the women. "It's like a little outing for us."

Brooklyn resident Pat Lockner, who has been quilting for about 30 years, joined the group several years ago after hearing about it from a family member.

"I just wanted to come up and check it out and that was it." Lockner said as she used needlepoint to turn square pieces of plastic into a pink and blue candy dish.

"I got stuck," she said. "It gets me out of the house and away from my husband."

Coming up with her own creations, Lockner said she completes about three to four quilts per year and sells them at area flea markets.

"I like the atmosphere," said Paulette Parker during a recent Wednesday afternoon session.

"I like the people that I'm working with," said the Anne Arundel County resident. "They're willing to help you. And it's like a family more or less."

After the first one she made was too small, Parker tried for a second time to crochet a sweater for a friend's dog.

She said she has often given her creations away as gifts since joining the group in October after retiring from the county's Department of Social Services.

"I wanted to learn to crochet and knit," she said about her retirement goals. "And to learn how to play the piano."

She said she particularly enjoys the "end product."

"To see exactly what I've made," she said. "I love it."

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