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Ready, Willis and Able – Mystery quilt completed (May 20, 2015 issue)

Everybody loves a mystery and quilters in particular love mysteries involving old quilts. Recently, Unicoi County’s Unaka Piecemakers Quilt Guild had the pleasure of working with such a quilt from nearby Carter County. The project arrived at the Guild in the form of a stack of quilt blocks folded neatly in a small brown paper bag. But these blocks, made from polyester in the 1970s, still looked like new. Nineteen of the blocks had been embroidered and appliquéd, while the remaining blocks had nothing on them.
Kandy Capozzi , a niece of the originator of the mystery quilt, wanted to find an individual or quilt guild that might complete her aunt’s quilt so she could use it as a lap robe or a wall hanging. But Kandy lives in Las Vegas, so her brother J.M. Sellers, who still lives in the Tri-Cities, was delighted when the Unaka Piecemakers agreed to complete the quilt for Kandy. Piecemaker Mary Jane Hayes was especially drawn to the mysterious quilt blocks and with the support of her fellow Piecemakers was unrelenting in bringing the Guild’s project to fruition.
But Mary Jane and the other Piecemakers also wanted to know more of the quilt’s story. So they invited J.M. to a recent meeting to find out what he could tell them about the mysterious quilt pieces. J. M. explained that his Aunt Elva Smalling was evidently making the quilt for her mother, Julia Dimple Mettetal Smalling. And instead of just trying to describe Julia, he brought a projector and showed pictures of her taken on the farm in the Watauga Valley of Carter County where she lived with her husband and children. He explained that in the 1970s, Julia, a dynamic force in her family and community, was diagnosed with crippling arthritis. But rather than go to a nursing facility, she had health services personnel come to her home. J.M. speculates that it was during this time, that her daughter Elva cut the quilt blocks and gave them to family, friends, and caregivers with the intention of having them write their good wishes for Julia in ink, which Elva would embroider and fashion into a small lap robe quilt for Julia. Elva was a noted quilter. She served on the Tennessee Governor’s and First Ladies’ Quilt Committees and was an industrial graphics designer with North American Rayon Corporation in Elizabethton.
But Elva never completed the lap robe quilt intended for her mother. However, it has now been completed and will travel to Las Vegas to Julia’s granddaughter Kandy, where it will grace her home. And the quilt will contain the love and goodwill of Mary Jane and the other Unaka Piecemakers who meet twice a month at Grace Methodist Church in Erwin to stitch beauty, goodwill, and friendship with one another. Perhaps these fruits of human connection are the real mystery contained in Elva’s and all such quilter’s quilts.