Quilting is an art form that has traversed generations. Quilting was once a means to create warmth from old scraps of worn clothing or feed sacks. The art of quilting can be solitary to a point, but maximum efficiency comes when many hands gather to do the fine stitching that holds the three layers of fiber together. And so, quilting is also a social event.
In 1983, the Shelby County Historical Society Quilters Guild (later shortened to Bear Paw Quilt Guild) was born in Shelby County, Indiana. As a quilt is made of many colors and patterns of fabric, which when sewn together become something beautiful beyond the separate pieces, so were the women and men of the Bear Paw Quilters. From many walks of life, circumstances, and generations, the group not only cut up fabric and stitched it together, but they wove the fabric of their lives together. They supported each other through illness and death, celebrated birthdays and grandchildren together, all while creating quilts to help others.
In the 38 years that the Bear Paw Quilters (BPQ) have been together, they gifted 101 quilts to the Ronald McDonald House at Riley hospital, enough so that every bed had a hand-made quilt. They made quilts for the former Shelby County Home. To honor those who served our country, they made Quilts of Valor for the Veteran’s Hospitals throughout the country. If you were treated for cancer at Major Hospital Partners (MHP), you likely have a lap quilt made to encourage you and bring a smile. Comfort quilts were also made for patients that were coming to end of life. Since 2009, approximately 300 quilts have been donated to MHP. The BPQ made quilts for kids who suffered burn injuries so that they could go home from Burn Camp with a reminder of the memories they had made. The Bear Paw Guild made a quilt, pillow and clothing for Sandy Allen, the world’s tallest woman. In 2016 a quilt was made for the Indiana Bicentennial. It was made and conformed to guidelines set by the Indiana Bicentennial Quilt Registry. Many other donations and projects were made to several organizations.
In their effort to share the joy of quilting, members of the BPQY taught the history of quilting in county elementary schools where students were encouraged to practice quilting stitches.
Members embraced many women arriving from Japan into the Guild. As their husbands worked in local industries, the women, despite language barriers, socialized and shared the art of quilting. Lifetime friendships have survived the distance between Shelby County and Japan.
Since 1983, the Grover Museum housed The Bear Paw Quilt Guild in a basement room. The Guild members were good stewards of the use of the museum, installing lights, adding a bathroom on the lower level, buying appliances, donating funds for remodeling areas, and many other things needed by the museum over the years. The funds were raised by raffling a quilt that members made. They sold tickets at events throughout the county to friends and friends of friends. Each year the drawing was held at the historical society fall dinner. To be in the Guild, you had to be a member of the museum, and Guild members also served and contributed refreshments at the Saturday Root Beer Float days, Pioneer Fairs, and many other Museum events.
In 2019/2020, the Grover Museum directors notified the Quilt Guild that they would be taking back the Guild’s space. So, this month, the dismantling began. As old friends gathered to sort fabric, sort the many tools, sewing machines and irons, they shed some tears and reminisced about all they had accomplished with nothing more than material, a needle, and hearts that wanted to give. As they parted for the last time, they knew that the stitches that hold their fabric of friendship together are as strong as ever, despite having to pack up their home base.