Arts and Crafts

Quilters stitch together a long tradition of serving those in need

 by Judith Kahn

The members of the Dorcas Hand Quilters club meet every Wednesday for camaraderie and to collaboratively create unique quilts.

Named after Dorcas, a Biblical seamstress who was a righteous and holy woman and made clothes for the poor, the group is dedicated to raising money for charitable organizations through quilting. The Dorcas meet every Wednesday at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, located at 25 Lake St.

quilt 1

 Dorcas quilters Anita Inochencio (left to right), Belita Lewis and
Ewa Balewski work on a custom-made quilt. Photos: Tyrone Bertoli.

In 1938, an expert quilter and member of the Women’s Federation of St. John’s Church, taught members how to “take 11 stitches to the inch.” Stitch and Chatter, a sewing group, was thus formed, adding quilts to items that were donated to the Red Cross and other philanthropic organizations for fundraising efforts.

Sewing clothes for people overseas was a common practice for many churches during World War II. About 18 years after the end of the war, Alice Zwanck, the youth guidance counselor at St. John’s, started the Young Ladies Quilting and Cookie Society. Her 16-year-old student, Bonny Morley, began her devotion to quilting under Zwanck’s tutelage.  Although no longer quilting with Dorcas, Morley remains a mentor to the group.

Quilting groups and traditions are particularly prominent in the United States where, in the early days of the colonies, it was necessary to create warm bedding. Small pieces of fabric were joined together to make larger units called blocks. Quilting bees were often a communal activity where quilts were made to commemorate major life events.

Today, quilters across the United States are making quilts for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

A quilt is made up of three basic parts: a top layer, typically the pieced part of the quilt; the middle layer, or batting, a thin cotton or cotton blend that adds insulation; and the bottom layer, or backing, which is usually made of the same fabric as the top layer. There is also binding, which is fabric sewn around the edge of the quilt to keep everything together.

Quilting frames are often used to stretch the layers and maintain tension to produce high quality stitches. In Dorcas, before one can work on a frame, they must master the rocking stitch, which is the most common method of hand quilting. They practice this stitch on a “cheater cloth” held in a hoop.

Dorcas Hand Quilters allow participants to bring the tops of their own quilts, or quilts they are commissioned to complete, to work together, which takes shorter time (a year or less) than when a project is done alone.

Proceeds from the sale of quilts produced by Dorcas are donated to St. John’s Church.

The quilting industry has grown with the use of computers, computerized sewing machines and all sorts of specialized fabrics and notions.

quilt 2

Quilters say their craft is a great way to build camaraderie.

The members of Dorcas look forward to their Wednesdays together. Several regular participants have been attending for 20 years or more while the newest member just joined.

For Dorcas member Betty Tang, quilting is a creative, organically unique outlet that allows her to remember her mother, who made beautiful hand-made items.

Janet McDonald gains satisfaction by finishing quilts that were started by others.

Pattie Klimek, who now teaches at various Bay Area quilt shops, finds quilting relaxing. It also opened up a creative streak she never knew she had.

A quilter since the early ’80s, Cathey Kennedy describes Dorcas as “camaraderie, service and crafts all rolled into one.”

Having been a member for 20 years, “Dorcas is a real find and a gem to be a part of,” said Patricia Hess, who also finds quilting meditative and creative.

The group’s secretary, Abigail Johnston, does not quilt but “enjoys the companionship of all these talented people and seeing beautiful pieced tops become beautiful finished quilts under their skilled hands.”

quilt 3

“The members of Dorcas look forward to their Wednesdays together. Several regular participants have been attending for 20 years or more while the newest member just joined.”

Liz Goldbaum, has been quilting for 20 years, said the group “quilts with love, devotion and a deep respect for our craft and the quilters before us.”

The members of Dorcas are currently working on two very different quilts: “Sun Bonnet Sue,” a classic clamshell stitching pattern, and “Twisted Ribbon,” a contemporary pattern created by one of the Dorcas.

On Sunday, Sept. 30, at 10 a.m., Dorcas will be celebrating its 80th anniversary at St. John’s Presbyterian Church. They are inviting the larger community to join them on this occasion, thanking St. John’s for its continual support.

Dorcas Hand Quilters welcomes people to stop by its meetings every Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at St John’s. For more information, call Pattie Klimek at (415) 681-9473 or email

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