Dora sisters use old and new methods to create legacy of colorful quilt masterpieces
Sisters Martha Martin and Donna Lemons of Dora are like many siblings; they share common interests as well as the family genes. In the case of these two talented women, it’s also a deep love of quilts and quilting that unites them. But that is where the likeness ends. As these two pursue their beloved common pastime, Martha employs the old-fashioned method of hand stitching that requires long hours spent with needle and thread and lots of patience while Donna has become a master of modern tools and techniques, a choice that allows her to be quite prolific and precise. The results are beautiful – but very different – creative quilts.
Both sisters’ creations are on display through March 15 at the Ozark County Historium in Gainesville.
The daughters of Elbert and Mary Owens did not grow up watching their grandmothers or mother make lots of quilts. Mary was an accomplished seamstress and did finish a couple of quilts, but Donna said she was too much of a perfectionist to even teach her daughters to sew. Martha’s first attempt at handwork was learning to crochet from her older sister, Juanita, while attending the one-room Ball School. Donna credits her high school home economics teacher at Dora, Leona Penrod, with teaching her to sew.
Quilts’ popularity rises during bicentennial
When our nation celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, a new light was shed on traditional crafts like quilting, and soon it was enjoying a renewed popularity such as had not been seen since the 1920s and ’30s. Magazines and catalogs offered inspiration, and teachers such as Georgia Bonesteel shared techniques that were fun and easy.
Martha taught herself to quilt in the 1980s using Bonesteel’s unique quilt-as-you-go technique. After retiring in 2001 from Amyx Manufacturing in West Plains, she joined the Dora Quilters; the group still meets weekly, and Martha can often be found on any given Tuesday, sitting around an old-fashioned quilting frame, hand-stitching a quilt top pieced by one of the club members.
Her love of quilting has been passed by Martha to her daughter, Anna Hambelton, who also makes quilts, and her granddaughter, Mandy, who has begun by making rag quilts. Martha’s husband, Nova (“Shorty”), has contributed to the family quilting cause by making a quilt frame from PVC pipe, which Martha uses to quilt at home. Her home just happens to be on the farm where she was born; it was her grandparents’ farm at that time. Martha still cuts all her pieces the old-fashioned way – with scissors, rather than rotary cutter and ruler – and enjoys the entire quilt process from cutting to binding, with each stitch taken by hand.
Donna’s quilting journey was inspired by her love of traditional quilts, coupled with a desire to make them faster. She started by hand quilting and found she could do it – but soon realized she was not patient enough to stay with it. Donna had mastered the use of a sewing machine, having sewn clothing for her family for years. So, when long-arm quilting machines arrived on the scene, Martha encouraged her to give the new method a try.
Donna and her husband, Terry, had moved back to Ozark County after he retired from working at Kraft Foods in Springfield, to the farm where the sisters and their siblings grew up; their home is the one where Donna was born. One of the outbuildings was converted into a quilting studio, and the Lemons’ business, Donna’s Country Quilts, was born. But it turned out to be Terry who was best at running the long-arm machine!
For the last dozen years or so, the two have worked together; Donna puts the quilts into the quilting frame, and Terry machine quilts the tops. In their busiest year, the couple quilted more than 800 quilt tops for customers all around the Ozarks! In addition, they provide many quilts for benefits and charities to help others. Donna sometimes enjoys sewing unique, custom tops for friends and relatives. She is a member of the Historium Quilt Group and the Dora Country Club, a group led by Virginia McMurtrey.
A legacy of quilts created with old ways and new methods
Both Martha and Donna are active members of Ball Church of Christ, a place that looms large in their heritage, sitting as it does near the site of the old school. They enjoy the history of their family, their homes and their community, and they hope their quilts will be a legacy they leave someday, with Martha’s quilts recalling the old ways and Donna’s as reinterpretations using today’s methods … the best of both quilting worlds.
Come see dozens of beautiful examples of the sisters’ quilts at the Ozark County Historium from now until March 15. The Historium is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; the exhibit is free and open to everyone. For more information, call the Historium at 417-679-2400.