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African-American history comes to life

Riderwood quilt show showcases inspiration, talent

Created date

May 21st, 2014
woman standing with her quilt

Residents and staff at. style="font-size: 0.923em; line-height: 1.5em;"> Riderwood got to enjoy a unique slice of African-American history earlier this year. The community’s African-American history club and its quilting group joined forces to put on a quilt show. Resident Levern Allen spearheaded efforts to organize the show.

“I organized the quilt show because I’m a member of both of the clubs. I knew we had a venue for showing the quilts here at Riderwood, so I knew we wouldn’t be out there on our own,” Levern says.

The quilt show took place in Riderwood’s celebration room on February 11 to coincide with Black History Month. Levern says the group displayed 20 quilts from about ten different residents. 

“What we had was what we called a ‘call for quilts’—it had to be a quilt that was made by an African-American or inspired by an African-American,” Levern says. “When we got to people’s houses to look at what they had, we often found they had another quilt we could also display.”

Colorful display

Levern, who has been an avid quilter since she retired from her career as a speech pathologist in the 1990s, displayed two quilts at the show. She made replicas of two of the famous Gee’s Bend quilts. Female slaves in Alabama in the nineteenth century created the original versions. The women used strips of cloth to create the brightly colored quilts that are known for their lively geometric patterns. 

Resident Dorothy Sojourner displayed a colorful nylon quilt that she received from her husband’s family in the 1950s. Dorothy says that, for her, the quilt symbolizes the welcome she received from her new family as a newlywed.

“Whenever I see it, the word ‘warmth’ comes to mind,” she says.

Rebecca Griffin, another Riderwood resident, showcased a quilt that pays homage to a more recent chapter of African-American history. Rebecca used photographs printed on fabric to craft a quilt called “A Second Term: Barack Is Back.” The handmade quilt depicts scenes from President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012. 

“There was a lot of history,” Levern says of the show. “We were very, very proud that we had done this after the fact. We’ve gotten a lot of attention from it.”

More time for fun, learning

Levern moved to Riderwood in 2003 in search of a simpler, maintenance-free lifestyle. “When you have a big house and big yard, it becomes a chore when your husband dies and now everything is your responsibility,” she says.

Levern selected a Georgetown-style apartment home at Riderwood. Her home features one bedroom and a den, which Levern says she uses to work on her quilting.

Now that she doesn’t have to worry about things like mowing the lawn or having appliances repaired, Levern spends her days doing the things she actually enjoys. 

Monday morning gatherings of the quilting club are a mainstay of her schedule. Levern says the quilters sometimes work on special projects together, like making quilts for Habitat for Humanity to be donated to people in need. When they’re not collaborating on a special project, the ladies bring their own quilting materials to a common area, where they can chitchat and swap tips while they work.

Levern also takes advantage of opportunities to learn new things, something that is easy to do when you live at Riderwood. She particularly enjoys taking classes that are offered on campus. Recently, she completed courses in digital photography and African art. She also does interviews for the community’s in-house TV station, which operates out of a state-of-the-art studio on campus.

“I enjoy my life at Riderwood,” Levern says. “There’s no doubt about it—I enjoy every bit of it.”