The Making of a Unitarian Universalist Quilt
By Cathy Allis
The quilt that brightens the Sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs is a visual feast of rich colors, symbols, and images of over one hundred people in fifty different native costumes. In all its diversity, the imagery reflects the church’s principles of respect for the beliefs of all people and for the Earth of which we are a part.
Originally suggested by Rev. Linda Hoddy, the quilt began to take shape during the spring of 2003 under the guidance of Diana O’Brien, an experienced quilter and a member of the Wings Falls Quilters Guild. A dozen women joined Diana throughout a memorable year of planning and design and another year of construction.
Diana derived the quilt’s basic structure—a circular center with four radiating semicircles—from a floral-themed quilt pattern. Every detail of the quilt was the result of many hours of brainstorming, voting, research, diagramming, and creating templates, all before the sewing had even begun! The quilt was pieced together by machine by Claudia Elkins. All the appliqué work (the attaching of people, symbols, and letters) and quilting (stitching through the top layer, batting, and backing) was done by hand. Diana stitched all the quilting and much of the appliqué. Others who helped with the appliqué included Eileen Donovan, Claudia Elkins, Cynthia Kroeger, Kathy Leroux, Arliss Nygard, and Lois Radke.
The central circular area (except for the white figure) was completed first by Sara Rawitsch. Diana spoke of Sara’s wit and exuberance in explaining her choice of shiny silver lamé to outline the dark blue center. That flair belied the fact that at the time Sara was battling a relapse of cancer. Had she not lost that battle on Christmas Eve 2004, Sara would have undoubtedly continued to work on the project. Although she didn’t live to see the finished creation, her fellow quilters brought the completed fabric-people to her bedside for her to “meet.” Upon its completion in May 2005, the quilt was posthumously dedicated to Sara in a special service in the Sanctuary. Her favorite bidding, “Journey well,” is the quilt’s title.
Cynthia Kroeger contributed the white central figure, designed to be interpreted as either of two images: a flaming chalice, a symbol of Unitarian-Universalism; or a dove, the universal symbol of peace. The surrounding sixteen symbols represent world religions, historical cultures, and images from nature.
Human figures surround the outer semicircles. Diana’s research provided dozens of pictures that guided the designs of the costumes. Materials include cotton, silk, brocade, lamé, lace, beads, and ribbon. Although the quilters provided much of the fabric themselves, Ellie Parker contributed funds for the purchase of additional material.
Once the figures were completed, the four semicircleswere filled in. Members of the congregation voted on words or phrases that best represent Unitarian-Universalism. As the winner, “Love” was placed in the center, along with the words that begin the church’s covenant. Those receiving the next-highest numbers of votes—service/justice, compassion, truth/courage, and tolerance—were hand-sewn (with hems meticulously turned under) onto the semicircles in a dark red serif font. Balancing the quilt’s pervasive tones of sky blue and earth brown, green olive branches were added as symbols of growth, renewal, and peace.
The Sixteen Symbols, Clockwise from the Top
1. Wheat (Fertility and life)
2. Sikhism (Khanda, sword surrounded by wheel and daggers)
3. Unitarian-Universalism (Flaming chalice)
4. Muslim (Crescent and star)
5. Christianity (Fish/alpha)
6. Shinto (Torii, meaning “gate”)
7. Jainism (Hand representing Ahimsa, meaning “non-violence”)
8. Taoism (Yin-yang)
9. Confucianism (Chinese character for “happiness,” doubled)
10. Buddhism (The Buddha)
11. Judaism (Menorah)
12. Spiral (Ancient Celtic sun symbol)
13. Hinduism (Sanskrit symbol, “Omkar”)
14. Dharma Wheel (Spokes representing the eight tenets of Buddhism)
15. Native Spirituality (Medicine wheel)
16. Baha’i (Nine-pointed star)