Stitches and Stories: Quilters interpret titles by Columbus' most famous writer

April 20, 2013 7:09:37 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


"What's in a name?" Shakespeare once posed. But it is a writer of a much later era whose plays, screenplays and short story names inspired a quilting challenge within the Possum Town Quilters guild. For the quilters, the name was everything.  


After drawing packets at random last August, 10 participating guild members learned which of Williams' titles they would base a 52-by-32-inch quilted wall hanging on. Included in the packets were binding for the hangings and color chip samples.  


"One of the instructions was that we had to incorporate the exterior colors of the Tennessee Williams Home in our quilts," said Terry Turnage, president of the quilters group that gets together twice monthly at the Rosenzweig Arts Center in Columbus to stitch and conduct business. Members range in age from late 20s to 90 and hail from the Golden Triangle and surrounding areas including Shuqualak and Vernon, Ala.  


All 10 completed hangings were displayed at the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau during Spring Pilgrimage March 31 through April 13, where the public could vote on a Viewer's Choice.  


The designs were completely left up to the quilters, who let their imaginations run free. 




Cats and crafts 


Terry Turnage drew the title "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." The Columbus High School math teacher first downloaded the movie made from Williams' play which won him the Pulitzer Price for Drama in 1955; she had never seen it before. 


"Then I came up with a plan of doing a plantation house with a cat on an outbuilding," explained Turnage. 


Last fall, the quilter visited Cotesworth, the circa 1840 home of a friend in North Carrolton. She spent an afternoon photographing the house she wanted to replicate on her hanging. Once Turnage was able to get a drawing of the perspective she wanted, she enlarged it, applied a grid to it and tackled the art quilt, block by block. 


Because none of the hangings could be named the exact title of Williams' work due to copyright restrictions, she named her hanging "Cotesworth's Kat," with a salute to Cotesworth's owner, Katharine Williams. 


Turnage always includes a Bible verse on the back of her quilt work. For this one she chose a verse from Joshua: "Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." 


"I think if Tennessee Williams had read this verse his characters would not have been so isolated," Turnage wrote on her blog, 


Bonita Watana Cantrell and Judy Stokes both channeled Williams' title "Small Craft Warnings" in their challenge hangings. The play revolves around a motley group gathered in a seedy coastal bar in Southern California. Cantrell created a coastal tableau, complete with shadowy figures in a bar.  


"I did an ocean scene, with a storm and lightening coming in," said the Vernon resident, who taught herself how to quilt by searching the Internet, going to quilt shows and taking classes when she could. Now she teaches them. 


"I love it, I love it, I do," she shared. "I love quilting. To me personally, it's the creativity: You can take a bunch of scraps and make something beautiful and usable. It's like taking something from your head and putting it on canvas." 






Stokes, of Columbus, is a self-professed "obsessed quilter" who has delved into all sorts of craft techniques -- which led her to take her drawn "Small Craft Warnings" title quite literally. Her hanging includes examples of cross-stitch, knitting, a plastic canvas "mug rug," felt ornaments, paper piercing and more. She appropriately named her piece "Warning! Small Crafts are Addictive." 


"I used to be a cross-stitcher, but after my first quilting class in 2005, it has become my No. 1 distraction," Stokes laughed. "Annis Cox was teaching a class at Hancock Fabrics; when I took that first class, the bug bit me and I haven't looked back since." 


Other challenge quilters, and the Tennessee Williams' titles their pieces are inspired by, include CC Coggins ("Baby Doll"), Brenda Crownover ("The Last of my Solid Gold Watches), Gwin Edie ("Rose Tattoo"), Linda Goley ("I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix"), Julia Graber ("Spring Storm"), Bobbi Honnel ("Kingdom of Earth"), and Tanya Stewart ("Clothes for a Summer Hotel"). 


The display was a hit at the CVB Pilgrimage headquarters, where visitors streamed to buy tour tickets 


"They really added so much to the whole experience for people who came in," said CVB staff member Michelle Heredia. "It was so interesting, all the comments from people who quilted and those who didn't, but had an appreciation of it and considered these works of art." 


Thanks to the uniform bindings used on each hanging and the incorporated colors of the Tennessee Williams Home, which is located only steps away from the CVB office, "the quilts looked so beautiful hanging together, accenting the golds and greens," added Heredia. 


After judging by area quilt guilds, the top eight quilts will advance to an American Quilter's Society show in Grand Rapids, Mich., this summer. 




Passing it on 


The Possum Town Quilters welcome other enthusiasts. Expertise is not a requirement. And you may have to toss out some of those antiquated perceptions. 


"Quilting has changed a lot -- there are new tools and faster ways to do things. It's a faster process, not as labor intensive as some people think it is," said quilter Brenda Crownover, a retired assistant kindergarten teacher who watched her grandmother and mother quilt, and took it up in the 1970s. Since retirement, she's gotten "100 percent into it," describing the process as "painting with fabric." 


Traditional hand quilting is still embraced, of course. Members demonstrated those skills at homes during Pilgrimage and use it in some of the quilts they make and donate to Habitat for Humanity homes, to the Columbus Arts Council for fundraising raffles, and to comfort the sick. Currently they are working on a quilt to be donated to the Tennessee Williams Home. 


Novice quilters are encouraged to attend gatherings, watch if they prefer, ask questions, enjoy the Show and Tell.  


"We've had a lot of new quilters join us," said Stokes. "We have such a wide range of experience and are so diverse in our interests, from the traditional all the way to the most modern way of doing things. We invite people to join who want to learn." 


It's an old art, with some fresh techniques, inviting its practitioners to continually expand their skill sets and artistic interpretations. 


"We love to share quilting," said Cantrell. "It needs to be passed on to our younger people; otherwise it will die out -- and that just can't happen." 


Editor's note: To learn more about the Possum Town Quilters, go to, or email Terry Turnage at [email protected]

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.