The following article appeared in my local newspaper, The Times Daily, on the 4th of July, 2004.
Tuscumbia woman puts quilt together
By Cathy Wood Myers
In one square, a dog rests against the back of a firefighter – both obviously exhausted. - In another, the Statue of Liberty gazes across the skyline in both strength and sorrow.
The Liberty Bell, American eagle and other symbols of freedom and democracy are there as well, as are stars, flags and every conceivable shade of red, white and blue.
Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Israel, Canada and other countries are represented with national flags and symbols.
One square is from an elementary school, honoring a former student. Another square is for Mukul Agarwala, who, his wife says, loved reading, music, old movies and sports. In another, a J.R.R. Tolkein fan group memorializes a lost member.
Each of the almost 550 squares on the five patriotic-themed quilts that honor victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks was cross-stitched by hand. Some of the designs are originals, created specifically for the project. They were made and donated by stitchers from across the world.
"You could just look forever, couldn't you?" said Kathie Baumgardner, of Tuscumbia, brushing tiny pieces of fuzz from the stripes of red and white fabric. "Every one of these squares has a story."
In a 21st-century version of an old-fashioned quilting bee, these squares came from people around the world who answered Baumgardner's online request to help create needlework memorials to victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
With characteristic determination, she turned the almost 550 resulting cross-stitched squares into five quilts: one for each plane-crash site in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania and one each for New York fire and police departments.
The two biggest quilts – the New York and Washington ones -- are at least 8-by-13 feet and in the shape of American flags, with cross-stitched designs on each state's star.
The quilts honoring firefighters and police officers are in the style of U.S. flags, with alternating red and white fabric and a blue field.
She's still working on the quilt honoring the Pennsylvania crash site. It will be in that state's shape, with squares from Pennsylvania stitchers put in their proper geographic positions.
"Since I'm from Pennsylvania, it has a special place in my heart, so I wanted to do something different," she said.
"People became so patriotic after-9-11," she added. "People want to be a part of something so they don't feel helpless sitting around doing nothing. Some people volunteered – some gave blood. For stitchers, this is meaningful for them. It's an outlet, a form of therapy."
Baumgardner, 43, started the project Sept. 13, 2001 – two days after the attacks. In fact, she had been stitching when she heard news of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. She lived in Florida at the time. She and her husband, Joe; 19-year-old daughter, Diana; and 15-year-old son, Steven, moved to Tuscumbia this past December when Joe started work with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
A devoted cross-stitcher, Baumgardner had helped organize – and ultimately handled all the details for – two king-sized quilts stitched in memory of the Columbine High School shooting victims. She presented the quilts in Littleton, Colorado, on the one-year anniversary. "This time, I had to take a couple of days of praying about to see if I wanted to go through all that again," she said.
The logistics and details of such an undertaking can be overwhelming. A frequent contributor to several popular online cross-stitch bulletin boards – and moderator of a few of her own – Baumgardner posted her idea soon after the attacks. "I'm not the only one doing something like this," she said. "There are many, many 9-11 projects out there."
She drew guidelines so that all the pieces would be consistent in color and style -- and hoped for the best. She wasn't disappointed. "The first squares started coming in in about two weeks," she said. "I didn't even have a theme at first, but I knew I wanted it to be patriotic. Then, a light bulb went off and by December, I knew I wanted to do five quilts and make them like flags."
Her first deadline for stitchers to send squares was July 4, 2002. She extended that deadline to the following December and then spent several months arranging and joining the squares into strips.
"Many of my friends around the world that I've met through cross-stitching sent in squares, and some people sent in 20," Baumgardner said. "I did five myself, one for each quilt. I'm a Christian, and I believe that the Lord provides. At the end, I had just the right amount of squares for what I wanted to do – not one less and not one more."
Some squares are embellished with charms, buttons and other three-dimensional details. Some are stitched so minutely that they look almost like paintings. One particularly intricate portrait of a rescue dog probably took 150 hours. "There is love poured into these squares," Baumgardner said.
Her only concern now is that it's taken almost three years to complete the project, although, as she points out, planned 9-11 memorials such as the rebuilt World Trade Center Towers aren't done yet, either. "If I had finished them by now, they'd just be folded up in storage somewhere since there's no real place to display them," she said.
The biggest setback was the actual quilting. "A woman in Florida who had a quilt shop did the machine quilting at cost. That was a big job, since once you get one of these on a machine, you can't take it off until it's done. She took donations at her shop until she had enough money to pay for it," Baumgardner said. "In all, she had the quilts in her possession for six to eight months."
With a lifelong love of crafts and sewing, she started cross-stitching as a newlywed. "I married my high-school sweetheart at age 19, and with my husband in the Navy, we moved from Pennsylvania to Norfolk. You know, a young girl in a different state and no family could get into trouble, so I needed something to keep me busy. I went to the store, picked some up some cross stitch supplies and have been doing it ever since," she said.
"I have always been crafty and have a commercial art background," she added. "I took a spiritual gifts test at church, and it said my gift is hospitality. I'm just a homebody. I like to be home, stitching and taking care of my family and our four dogs."
She cherishes those simple pleasures because there's another reason the quilt project has taken so long – in 2002, she was hospitalized five times for heart problems and underwent heart surgery that ultimately failed. She now wears a pacemaker.
"My faith has sustained me. God has been good to me. I've got a great family, great kids and great friends," she said, wiping away a tear. "Working on these quilts has been a long emotional road. I just hope they're appreciated."
Although she's hesitant to ask for help, she accepts donations for travel expenses to present the quilts in person, although she's not yet sure where that will be.
And they're almost done – only lacking a binding from fabric printed with words from the Pledge of Allegiance.
"Quilting for me is an escape – but it's also an heirloom," she said. "These quilts freeze time for a moment, so that people will remember what happened. It's a snapshot of a part of our history. Quilts are so comforting, and I hope these will bring comfort to people."
Picture taken by JIM HANNON/TimesDaily
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