Quilting: An American tradition

Sunday, October 2, 2005
Evelyn DeCota meticulously worked on one of her latest creations in her Sikeston, Mo., home Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2005. (DON FRAZIER ~ dfrazier@ semissourian.com)

Evelyn DeCota's canvas is a piece of soft fabric stretched inside a wooden hoop.

Her brush is a two-inch-long steel needle. The bedrooms of her Sikeston, Mo. home serve as her gallery.

For 55 years, Decota has plied a nearly abandoned art: hand-stitched quilts.

When Decota says hand-stitched, she means completely hand-stitched, without the use of a sewing machine.

"It's old fashioned way, almost a lost art really," she said.

Her aversion to sewing machines has nothing to do with holding on to the past. It's about being a perfectionist.

The delicate stitches -- thousands in each quilt -- and intricate patterns cannot be accomplished by any machine, DeCota explained.

She combines trapunta, embroidery, patchwork and appliqu* in her quilts, often creating her own patterns.

At 77, her inspiration still comes from her family. A Mother's Day card spurred the floral design on one of her quilts. Raccoons embroidered by a friend inspired another.

"I just never know exactly what they'll be like when I start," she said.

Though she learned to sew from her mother, DeCota didn't begin making quilts until after she married 55 years ago.

It takes her about a year to finish a single quilt, and she's made around 25 over her lifetime.

Many of DeCota's quilts will be on display at the Westminster Presbyterian Church Mission Benefit Quilt Show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 8.

The display will include a quilt that earned DeCota first place in this year's Azalea Festival in Charleston, Mo.

Unlike many quilters, DeCota doesn't keep huge stores of fabric on hand or use any special equipment. She uses her kitchen table to cut fabric and usually sews in a recliner.

"When I pass away, there won't be any quilt blocks laying around undone," she said. "God's going to let me when it's time so I can finish."

She's working on a couple quilts now and already has her next one in mind: an 8-point star pattern in shades of pink with roses. She also knits and had dabbled in painting.

"But I'd rather quilt than do anything," she said.


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