Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Photo Essay: The ‘Lost Art’ of the Tutwiler Quilters

By Vickie King

Mississippi Today

“I love it. I really do,” said Mary Willis Mackey, Quilt Director of the Tutwiler Quilters. “One day, I hope to travel around the state and teach all who want to learn how to quilt.” Photo by Vickie King

It’s been a 32-year journey for Mary Willis Mackey, Quilt Director of the Tutwiler Quilters.

Mackey’s passion for quilting began in 1989, a year after Sister Maureen Delaney of the Sister of the Holy Name Order started the quilting program for women in the community to get out of the house, come together and make money.

It was a way for friends to get together and share stories, laughter, and of course, stitching. Once she started, Mackey caught the bug. She studied patterns and how to lay them out, working with cardboard cut-outs as her patch shapes before ever taking scissors to actual material. She taught herself how to use a sewing machine too.

“It’s a lost art and I want to keep it going,” said Mackey, who is passing the tradition down to her granddaughter. “She just came to me one day and said, ‘Grandma, I want to make a quilt.’ And that was it. She took right to it.”

“They’re really enthusiastic to learn,” Mackey said. “We usually run on past the time class is supposed to end because no one wants to stop. They all want to see that quilt take shape.”

Today, the Tutwiler Quilters program serves as a way for people, women especially, to learn a quilting style specific to the Delta and create art that they can use to support themselves.

“It takes patience though, and a lot of love,” Mackey said. “And I love it. I absolutely do. The learning is in the head, but you do it from the heart,” she said while storing away all manner of quilting materials donated by a woman who traveled with a friend from Iowa.

“One day, what I’d really like to do is get me a little bus or van, and travel around to communities all over the state and teach people how to quilt. Keep a long tradition going, Plus, it really is a whole lot of fun,” Mackey said.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.