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There's a story behind every quilt that's ever been made throughout history. Some reflect social issues surrounding the period in which they were made, others may be intended only as a marriage of colors joined together by varying shapes and sizes. The list goes on, of course, as the story lies in the hands of the maker.

"All Quilts Have a Story" is the theme of this year's quilt show, hosted by the Great Lakes African American Quilters' Network (GLAAQN). Members will display their colorful works of fiber art -- sharing the beauty of what has resulted from a centuries old needlecraft tradition, thought to date back to ancient times. 

GLAAQN started in 2003 after four local quilters returned from a popular quilt show in Illinois. Realizing there was nothing like that here in Michigan and recognizing the need, the women decided it was time to make a change, so they combined their efforts and funds and reached out to as many area quilters as possible. Among them was Wanda Nash of Livonia, who became one of the founding members. 

"We decided we had nothing like that for African American women in Michigan, and we wanted to be able to share our quilts with the community, and provide education in quilting for the community," explained Nash. Members also work to help those in need by making and donating quilts to charity organizations.

"Some of our meetings are totally dedicated to making charity quilts. Everybody comes and picks out a pattern and the fabric they want," continued Nash, current president of GLAAQN. 

"Over the years," she said, "we've donated quilts to Children's Hospital in Chicago, and (C.S.) Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. But this year, we're in the process of trying to increase our donations to veterans." In the past, they've given infant size quilts to women veterans, and overall, the number of quilts they've donated ranged anywhere from 50-75 per year. However, Nash said, "Our goal for 2020 is 100 quilts to be donated to various charities." Their next charity quilt-making meeting is set for Oct. 12.

Members come from as far away as Flint, and they meet once a month at the Livonia Senior Center, 15218 Farmington. "For the odd number months, we always have a business meeting, a program, and some sort of class or demonstration."  

At present there are about 120 members, and they range in age from roughly 20 to almost 90. Yearly membership dues are $30, and it's been that amount since the group formed 16 years ago. Nash said, "We've been trying to keep our expenses low."

Interested in joining, but, like yours truly, you don't know the first thing about quilting? No problem! "As a matter of fact, if you want to learn, come join us," said Nash. "We have classes for beginners, as well as advanced students who want to learn a new technique. The fee varies, depending on membership and cost for the instructor. And, if you want to make a quilt, you have to provide your own material. Members recently held quilting classes inside the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History during last month's African World Festival.

GLAAQN host a quilt show every other year. This year's show is scheduled for Sept. 28-29 at St. John's Conference and Banquet Center, 22001 Northwestern Highway in Southfield. Hours are: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., and noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $7, and free for children younger than 5.

Some of the quilts on display will be for sale, and there will be a silent auction for those donated by members. Money raised will go toward material needed to make more quilts for charity. Other highlights will include vendors, demonstrations, prizes, a "Wearable Art Traveling Quilt Show," a make-and-take, food, and the sale of their book which features members and their work. The book, titled "Everlasting Threads Honoring Heritage and History, The Great Lakes African American Quilters' Network," is priced at $35. 

Working along side Nash in her role as president are vice-president Kaye Whittington of Novi; secretary Lorraine Hunter-Rooks, Detroit, treasurer Dion Williams, Warren, charity quilt chair Frances Jackson, Lathrup Village, and quilt show chair Karla Middlebrooks of West Bloomfield. 

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade. 

Contact the Great Lakes African American Quilters Network at GLAAQN.com

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