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Latrobe United Presbyterian Church quilters sew warmth into donations

| Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune Review
Margaret Neighly, 92, of Latrobe precisely measures and cuts squares of fabric for the quilter's group.

With each snip of the scissors and stitch of the needle, a group of women who gather at Latrobe United Presbyterian Church hopes to convey the warmth of their hearts through the warmth of the quilts they make.

The group of six women that spans three generations meets each Wednesday to produce quilts that have been donated locally, nationally and internationally to comfort those in need.

“We do this as a labor of love to help people,” said Debby Koenig, 62, of Latrobe.

The quilting group started in 2005 when church member Cheryl Miller, 68, of Latrobe knew there was a call for blankets and quilts to aid Hurricane Katrina victims.

“Most of us are self-taught here. We're originally sewers and just picked it up,” she said. “I watched some videos, and we just kind of learned as we went.”

Their quilts have been sent to comfort those as far away as Nepal, Peru and Mexico, while others are donated regularly to the Blackburn Center in Hempfield and the hospice treatment unit at Excela Latrobe Hospital.

The community outreach is an asset to the church, pastor Don Graff said.

“It's Christian mission work that they're doing really — helping out folks who really need it, hurricane victims, tornado victims, cancer victims,” Graff said. “They're just a wonderful group of ladies.”

Some members of the group worked one recent Wednesday to put together a “scrappy” quilt made from other project leftovers, following a plus-sign pattern of squares, while Margaret Nieghly, 92, of Latrobe, diligently cut other pieces into squares for a separate project.

She said she helps as much as she can with the quilts, while continuing to crochet tossle caps and dish towels.

“I like to sew. I just cut them out, and I let them go ahead and sew them together,” Neighly said.

A typical quilt can take anywhere from 40 to 80 hours, with more intricate patterns requiring a lot of cutting and sewing, Koenig said.

She likes to find new patterns in magazines to hone her skills and to see different fabric combinations.

“You get fabric that's maybe been donated or maybe brought in by somebody, and the challenge is to put it together to make it look nice, pleasing,” Koenig said.

All the members may not have learned to quilt from their grandmothers, but each said generations of their families had practiced the craft.

Gail McCallen, 57, of Latrobe said she always wanted to learn how to quilt, after knowing that her grandmothers did.

“I always wanted to try it but was always afraid to tackle it,” she said.

Now her daughter Stacy Levay, 31, of New Derry is also a member of the group. She brought her newborn daughter along, joking that 6-week-old Lucy was the group's youngest member.

During their Wednesday night meetings, the group, which also includes Lorraine Mitchell, 64, of Youngstown —will gather in the church basement at 340 Spring St., cutting the fabric, piecing the pattern together and sewing — a process that, including social time, can take most of the evening,

“The spouses say, ‘Bye! It's Wednesday night. Bye!' ” Koenig said.

Most of the quilts they make are donated. Some were sold at the church's vendor show April 10. A select few others will be for sale at the church's fall festival on the first Saturday in October.

A universal need is met when someone is gifted with one of the group's creations, Koenig said.

“It usually gets cold somewhere at some point and somebody needs a quilt,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or