It was a dark and stormy night as one by one the Sebago Seam-Rippers furtively gathered, bent on their secret work. For nine months now these eight have been meeting like this, always under cover of darkness at a secret spot. Slowly, block-by-block, their project has taken shape. Soon their work would be done, and it would be time to rip away their cloak of secrecy and tell the world!
Who are these people? Why do they only gather at night, in secret? The name alone “seam-rippers” conjures up dark images. Is this some secret society with blood oaths and obscure symbols? Perhaps it is a coven of serial murderers that delight in disemboweling their victims and then burying the bodies to molder in secret shallow graves in the woods?
Last week I received a call from Carol Tidd inviting me to the next gathering of the Seam-Rippers. I hesitated. The name sounded ominous and I didn’t know if perhaps I was going to be their next victim. I agreed to meet the group at Carol’s house on the shores of Lake Sebago one night, but before I left home I made sure that Penny knew where I was going, just in case I never came home again.
As I drove over in the gathering gloom the rain started in earnest. “All I need now,” I thought, “is thunder and lightning to make this a proper murder mystery scenario. Even the address is right - on Spider View Road.” Thoughts of ending up the evening swimming with the fishes somewhere off Spider Island ran through my head as I pulled into the driveway. Just to be on the safe side, I pulled my car up so that it was facing out just in case I needed to make a quick getaway. I walked quickly to the door to get out of the rain while keeping a close watch over my shoulder for the ghost of Vito Caggiano that lurks in the bushes.
I felt a little foolish when Carol ushered me into her home, full of smiling faces. The Seam-Rippers were all familiar faces of folks I know from Sebago. Not a hood on any of them and nary a hatchet even. None of them looked like what I thought a serial killer should look like.
One of the group, Sue Cummings, explained to me that the Seam-Rippers were an innocent group of quilters who for some obscure reason had decided to call themselves by this bizarre name. It all started last October when Debbie Taylor casually asked Sue “Can you tell me how to make a quilt? It is something that I’ve always wanted to learn how to do.”
“Quilting is not hard,” Sue said, “but making a quilt is a lot more fun when there is a group to work on it together.” One thing led to another, and soon a small group of eight quilters started meeting weekly for three weeks each month at Carol’s house to make a queen sized quilt in a traditional pattern. Carol’s husband Dick made a frame for the quilt that fills one end of the living room of their house, and gives an easy working surface for the quilters. <
Quilts are coverlets or blankets made of two layers of fabric with a layer of cotton, wool, feathers, or down in between, all stitched firmly together and usually in a decorative crisscross design. Quilts and quilting date back to the time of ancient Egypt and earlier. Quilted clothing has been worn for centuries. Quilting in America begin in the 1600’s, in the American Colonial Era, and the oldest surviving wholly intact quilt dates from 1708.
The gatherings of the Seam-Rippers would best be called a “quilting bee”. Traditionally this is a group where women quilted with family members or as a part of a church or other organized group. Over the years quilting bees are also where quilting skills were passed along from mothers to daughters and from neighbor to neighbor. The Seam-Rippers is such a bee, with Debbie learning from her quilting neighbors.
From the group Debbie learned how to make the “blocks” that are the heart of the quilt’s pattern. The quilt is made of individual 12x12 inch squares or blocks that are made separately by each quilter. Blocks are then stitched together in rows with sashing between each one, and then the rows of blocks are stitched together to form the quilt top. A few rows of borders around the whole top are added to make the finished size. Each block of the Seam-Rippers quilt is made using patterns that have been part of traditional quilts for years that have names like “Tree of Life”, “Monkey Wrench”, “Nine-Patch”, “Dresden Plate”, and “Churn Dash”.
“When your quilt is done next month, what will you do with it? I asked Carol.
Carol said, “We plan to have a raffle. We’ll donate the money we raise to the Friends of the Spaulding Memorial Library.” I learned that six of the eight Seam-Rippers are also members of the Friends, and the quilting bee is part of their annual fund-raising activities to help buy books, supplies, computers and other needed items for Sebago’s library. Every summer they raise nearly $1,000, money without which the library’s programs would suffer.
Tickets for the Seam-Rippers homemade quilt will go on sale in July at $1.00 each or six tickets for $5.00. The quilt, along with a homemade matched set of wooden-barrel pens and a clambake for four, will be raffled off on August 28, 2004. Tickets will be available at the Spaulding Memorial Library, or contact Carol Tidd at (207) 787-3803.
If you dare, you can also approach any Seam-Ripper, but I don’t recommend doing so on a dark and stormy night!
This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on July 8, 2004 under the title "Rippers keep old tradition going".
Last updated July 14, 2004
Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree