To inspire and motivate people navigating life after 50, Encore Grand Rapids profiles individuals and groups who have “found their groove” and purpose, getting the word out on its website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Quilters Find Solace in “Threads” That Bind

One tiny piece of fabric at a time, a group of dedicated women working out of Baxter Community Center are both celebrating their stories and serving as champions for young adults seeking something more.

They call their group “Threads,” and most Wednesday and some Saturday mornings, you’ll find them quilt-making, mostly for the sake of others. And as they sew, they talk.

“I love to sit and listen to the stories,” says Annette Mathews Radden, a retired schoolteacher who sometimes quilts, but sometimes just comes for the camaraderie. “History is very important to me, and that’s why I come to the quilting class. I enjoy sharing my history with them, and hearing about theirs.”

Indeed, quilting is much more than just assembling pieces of cloth. It’s a chance to commune, to connect, and in the case of Threads members, contribute to the greater good via a love of African-American quilting. Many of their quilts employ patterns that originated years ago in Africa.

Every other year, the group hosts a quilt show at the Center, raising enough to provide two $1,000 scholarships to college-bound students who typically hail from the predominantly African-American neighborhood. The next show is slated for 2018.

Of special interest to many is the degree to which quilts provided a secret code to slaves seeking freedom during the Civil War era. Legend has it, for instance, that hanging a “log cabin” quilt from a clothesline identified that home as a safe haven along the Underground Railroad that stretched from the deep South to Canada.

The group includes about 15 women, including some who’ve been attending for years, and others who joined recently. One member, Ruby Boulrece, calls Threads “the best thing that ever happened to me,” explaining that, “In the first place, it’s relaxing,” adding that she’s grateful “for the friendships I now have with the other ladies.”

Threads, she says with a laugh, “woke up a sleeping giant, and I love it!”

Contact: Jane Royer,

Published March 24, 2017