WVPA Sharing

Helping Hands quilters try to keep tradition, art alive

 

CUZZART, W.Va. —  There is a group of women in northern Preston County who some might consider to be the last of a very rare breed of West Virginia artisans.

The 14 women call themselves the “Helping Hands” and spend each week working on unique and intricate quilts.

One of the original members of Helping Hands. Betty Jenkins has been working on her quilting skills since the late 1950s. Photo courtesy of John Dahlia, Preston County News & Journal
One of the original members of Helping Hands. Betty Jenkins has been working on her quilting skills since the late 1950s.
Photo courtesy of John Dahlia, Preston County News & Journal

“It started in 1957,” Helping Hands President Connie Adkins said. “But it got more organized in 1984.”

The women come from the area around Cuzzart — a small, unincorporated community — mostly for fellowship and the chance to knit small or large quilts. The work is sometimes given to friends and family as gifts, but typically the beautifully patterned blankets are sold to raise money for charity.

“The money will go to fire victims, or anyone that might be having a difficult time,” Adkins explained.

Eleanor Reckart has been a quilter for Helping Hands since the group was first created by her mother-in-law Minnie Reckart.

“I was about 20 years old when I started,” Reckart said “And I’ve seen them come and go. It just seems like these young ones aren’t interested in quilting.”

Eleanor said she’s stayed with it for all these years mainly out of tradition, but also because quilting is one of three of her favorite things.

“There is such a difference in hand quilting than machine quilting,” Reckart said. “And I love to hunt, fish and quilt.”

Along with Reckart, her friend Betty Jenkins has been a member of Helping Hands since the beginning. Jenkins, who’s now a spry 85-years, admits she’s very worried about the future of quilting.

“And if our younger people don’t get into it soon, it’s all going to be a lost art,” Jenkins said. “I think our young people should be more interested in quilting. It’s so good to give to other people.”

Ultimately, quilting becoming a lost art is what Jenkins is most afraid of. Not for herself or even for her fellow quilters, but for those who might never experience the difference between a homemade quilt and one bought from a store.

“We won’t get homemade quilts any longer,” Jenkins said. “I’ve made quilts myself and I’ve done for all my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchild.”

For now, all 14 members of Helping Hands continue to meet every Thursday morning at nine at the Pleasant Valley Methodist Church in Cuzzart. And when they finish a quilt, according to Eleanor Reckart, there is a special tradition they try to keep.

“When we finish one, we like to shake the cat,” Eleanor explained. “That’s an old tradition, or old saying. It’s a big relief when the quilt is done and that’s just how we celebrate.”

A few of the special, handmade quilts from Helping Hands will be available to purchase at the Jewel of the Alleghenies quilt show at the Old Fashioned Fourth of July event in Terra Alta.

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