When life handed Roberta Harris lemons last February, she didn't make lemonade; she made quilts.
The Harlem woman said when she was let go from her job of 30 years at Roadway Express, she first marched down to the social security office so that she'd have enough money to support herself and soon after began learning to quilt as a way to pass the time.
Members of the Busy Bees quilt club at Philadelphia United Methodist Church Clara McNair (from left), Joyce Nightingale, Lee Brown, Rita Wren and Roberta Harris, work on a custom quilt with a John Deere design.
Photo by Jim Blaylock/Morris News Service
Ms. Harris started off with scant knowledge of quilting but was able to enlist the help of a small group of female friends from her church, Philadelphia United Methodist Church on Old Louisville Road in Harlem.
Before long, the 10 women became a full-fledged quilting club called the Busy Bees with meetings every Wednesday in a side room at the church.
The quilts they collectively craft are sold to parishioners with the proceeds donated to three sources: the Augusta Rescue Mission, a van fund for the church and a fund to fix the church sanctuary.
"We just enjoy getting together," Ms. Harris said before last week's meeting. "At first we were just working the mornings, and then we realized we had more to do, so we said, é─˛Let's do lunch.'"
Wednesday meetings begin with a devotional reading by the church's pastor - and Thomson resident - The Rev. Charles Broome, followed by club announcements.
Then it's down to business.
Hours are devoted to knitting and crocheting the quilts that are mainly special ordered, or at least requested in vague terms by members of the congregation.
Ms. Harris explained that a potential customer will ask for "something that looks like fall" or ask for a quilt with a John Deere pattern such as the one they are completing.
The club first mastered yarn quilts, making more than 30, before moving on to more complex designs.
Along the way, churchgoers have supported the women's efforts.
The group's founder cites Carroll Hock, who gave them $100 a year ago so that they could get off the ground, and "honorary member" Frank Mixon, who made a quilt stand for them that's still in use.
A particularly positive addition to the group came when expert quilter Chris Miller moved to the area a few months ago and was put in touch with the group through a friend.
"We found she knew everything from A to Z," Ms. Harris said of Ms. Miller, in the past a member of a 400-person quilting guild in Texas, a fabric store employee and quilting teacher.
Although the Busy Bees have made dozens of pillows and quilts during the past year, the group's most treasured product has been the quilt they've dubbed "Mr. Bulldog."
The quilt features red and black-checkered portions and a crocheted University of Georgia mascot in the center.
"This is our favorite thing," Ms. Harris said while unraveling the first real quilt the group made.
In the future, she'd love to expand the club or make more quilts for members of Philadelphia United Methodist's congregation and beyond to non-church members.
To order a quilt or to find out more about the Busy Bees, call Ms. Harris at 556-9596 or the church at 556-6283.