Martha Coleman, or Aunt Gallie as she is known, has a smile as big as she is. Photo by Alex Labry.
Story of the Underground Railroad, made by Carrie Henderson and quilted by the Blackland Neighborhood Center Quilters. The quilt hangs in the lobby of the neighborhood center. Photo by Alex Labry.
Martha Coleman stopped wearing high heels when she reached the age of 95—and that was almost ten years ago. But Martha, who’ll celebrate her 105th birthday in June, still prefers that her hat, purse, and shoes match when she goes out.
The stylin’ centenarian keeps a busy schedule, and one of her regular activities is going to quilt every Tuesday and Thursday with the Blackland Neighborhood Center Quilters in Austin, Texas. She often brings lunch for all of the other quilters—food that she has made at her nearby home, where she still lives by herself.
The Blackland Neighborhood Center Quilters consider Martha to be the heart and soul of their group. She is a blood relation to many of them, including her niece, 89-year-old Willie Mercer, and her grandniece (Mercer’s daughter), 69-year-old Carrie Henderson. Occasionally, her great-great-great-grandniece, seven-year-old Breonna, stops by for a quilting lesson.
Even the few members of the group who aren’t family refer to Martha as “Aunt Gallie” (Gallie being the nickname given to her years ago by a brother-in-law because she was such a “sassy gal”). “Rain, sleet, snow, it doesn’t matter, Aunt Gallie comes to quilting,” says another grandniece, Royce Pryor. “It could be the worst weather outside, and she’ll call you up and say, ‘Don’t you think it’s alright to go today?’ She keeps us all coming.”
If rest of us could be like Martha, it’s a sure bet that there would be fewer problems in the world. The diminutive widow, whose husband of 65 years died in 1997, has a smile almost as big as she is.
Everyone always wants to know the secret to her longevity, of course, and when asked that question yet again she patiently responds, “Be nice to everybody.” Then she adds, “And I drink water—I never drank soda water until I was 90—and I read the Bible a lot. Live right and treat your neighbors right. Regardless of what a person does to you, always forgive.”
Royce Pryor says that she has never heard her aunt raise her voice in anger. “Aunt Gallie never complains. She always has a positive attitude and her memory is better than mine!”
The activity of quilting and the companionship provided by working with family members and friends around a quilt frame are also important to Martha Coleman’s happy, long life. Her mother and a sister taught her to sew when she was seven, and she has been around quilting since she was a baby.
In the early 1970s, the group now known as the Blackland Neighborhood Center Quilters was started by one of Martha’s sisters, Susie McDonald (Royce’s grandmother) and several other ladies. When the Blackland Neighborhood Center opened its doors in 1984 and the quilters began meeting there, Martha and two more of her sisters joined in.
Since the group’s inception, they have worked on thousands of quilts, averaging two a week. They don’t quilt for the public, but rather work on one another’s tops; the owner of the top provides the backing, batting, and thread. Each year, the group gives the Blackland Neighborhood Center a quilt to use as a fundraiser, and they’ve donated quilts to other charitable causes as well. For the most part, though, the quilts are made for friends and family.
Sitting around the quilt frame, the women stitch and visit, laugh and joke. Their long association makes for a comfortable, easygoing atmosphere and it is obvious that they are all happy to be there passing the time together. It’ll be time for lunch soon, and they’ll enjoy the food that “Aunt Gallie” has prepared for them.
Martha Coleman looks up from her needle and flashes her wonderful smile. In her family, quilting has always been considered to be good for the health. At 104, Martha is living proof of that!
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Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
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Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
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Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
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Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
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Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
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Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
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Column 63: The Fat Quarters
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Column 58: Ralli Quilts
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Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
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Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
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Column 40: Tivaevae
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Column 37: Quilted Vermont
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