By Monica Dougherty
“Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.”
In the early 1980s a passionate and ambitious volunteer crew began transforming the abandoned and derelict Mayfair School building into the Irish American Heritage Center. It was to be a home to celebrate and preserve their Irish culture and heritage. They also asked themselves some questions. How could they share the gifts of their heritage? How could they pass them down to future generations? How could they make a difference?
Many visionaries and dreamers began forming groups where dance, language, music, theater, education and festivals could be preserved and celebrated. Led by many of the original founders, a group of women formed a sewing group and named themselves The Nimble Thimbles. Using some of the skills passed down to them by mothers or grandmothers or aunts and also learning from each other, they grew into a group of quilters and artisans who work at all forms of needlecraft including quilting, embroidery, fabric art, knitting and crocheting, tatting and lace making. They work both independently creating bags, dolls and doll clothes, needlepoint projects and they work together on group pieces. All of this creativity takes place in a room located on the second floor near the library, archive room, museum and the art gallery. The entire floor is an ongoing tribute to Irish heritage, culture and learning, and is a perfect answer to those early questions, a way to pass down the information and foster new interest.
Each year The Nimble Thimbles create a quilt that they begin showing at the St. Patrick’s Day festival. The last date of each year that people can buy tickets for that year’s quilt is at the annual Christmas Bazaar. And right after the holidays they begin planning and working on next year’s quilt. They also sell many of their other handmade items and quilts at all the other festivals and major events throughout the year and 100% of all the profits go directly to the Irish American Heritage Center. To date the group has contributed a little over $162,000 from the raffles and sales over the years.
They also make a positive difference in the community by making articles for the homeless such as sleeping mats, mittens and scarves; doing various projects for the Heritage Center; donating quilts to Rainbow Hospice and crocheting and knitting hats for preemie babies. Last year they began making Christmas stockings for the troops through Operation Support Our Troops-America. Last year the group sent over 200 stockings to Operation Support and hope to increase that number this year.
A very special project they are currently working on is a wall hanging made from ties donated by many of the volunteers who still come each week and continue to give of their time and talents to make sure the building remains in in good shape. The ties are cut and pieced together and then sewn to a background. The piece will hopefully be displayed throughout the year, a fitting and wonderful testament to the crafting skills of The Nimble Thimbles and the dedication of all the craftsmen and women to the original vision of the founders!
The group meets every Tuesday morning from 9:30 a.m. until about noon and on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. in their very busy room on the second floor. You don’t have to be an expert to join. It’s the perfect place to learn. Recently they offered a short series of sewing lessons. The next series will begin at the end of July. When you visit the Center be on the lookout for some of the displays on the second floor and be sure and visit their table at Irish Fest, iBAM! in the fall and the annual Christmas Bazaar. Details can be found at www.irish-american.org.
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By Monica Dougherty