Janet Storton taught Ugandan women to quilt, a skill which will help them feed their families. photo provided
Janet Storton taught Ugandan women to quilt, a skill which will help them feed their families. photo provided
When Janet Storton sold her interior design business a few years ago she had no idea in her semiretirement she would use her business and quilting skills to bring hope to the women of Uganda.

Or gaze upon the land of Africa where she told her mother - 50 years earlier - she would someday go.

In an effort to personally meet the two children she and husband Peter sponsor in Kapchorwa, Uganda, through Africa Renewal Ministries, Storton requested to be a part of a Christian medical group that was headed by All Nations Ministry founder Mike Parker and was going to Uganda last July.

Knowing she would miss the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show (the first one she's missed since moving here in 1993), Storton packed up the two quilts she had made specifically for her sponsor kids and landed in the country of Uganda with two-and-a-half days of travel behind her. The airport city of Entebbe had a density of people and buildings she did not expect to see in the country she has long admired and longingly desired to visit.

At the final destination of Kapchorwa, Storton finally met up with her two sponsor children, Job and Mercy, and took in the view of land. With the eagerness of a mom on Christmas morning she brought out the two quilts she had prepared for them.

The women of the area were enamored with the "blankets", which is what the folks in Uganda call any type of covering you would use on a bed. The leader of the women's group Mercy Ministries asked to meet with Storton. She had an idea.

Storton returned to the States but, in a matter of months (with lots of planning on the part of Paul Rawlins and Kelli Pyke of Sisters Community Church to set up a vocational training program) Storton was heading back to her beloved Africa.

Only this time she came with suitcases loaded with fabric, scissors and thread as she made her way back to the women she had come to love.

"These women need a trade or a craft to enable them to feed their families," said Storton.

The area of Uganda where Storton's sponsor kids live has seen some heavy tribal conflicts that have caused many casualties, leaving many women alone to do all the work to keep a family alive.

At The Farm, a place for widowed women with no hope outside it's boundaries for help to live, women who have endured 20 years of civil war shared their stories as they eagerly learned how to make baby quilts from Storton.

In both places the women naturally fell into working in teams. Those who sewed did so on the treadle sewing machines and the others took to cutting out material and tying off quilts while the grandmas watched the children and cooked.

A few days after teaching the women, after finishing many quilt tops, Storton traveled to a teenage orphanage in Lira where the boys were more eager than the girls to learn the trade of "quilting" so they could provide for themselves and their future families.

Each stop on the quilting school circuit exacted promises out of Storton to come back and teach them more.

"All this creativity that's been inside them just came out," Storton said as she gazed upon the many photos of the quilts and the quilters from her trip.

The plan that Storton hatched included giving the women something to hang on to; so she introduced them to the story of the quilters of Gee's Bend.

Located at a curve of the Alabama River near Selma, Alabama, the area of Gee's Bend was founded during antebellum times. Once the Civil War ended, freed slaves became tenant farmers and founded an all-black community that, poor as they were, thrived on the new heritage they were making for themselves and future generations.They had hope.

A quilter's style described as "distinctive, bold and sophisticated" emerged, a style that has survived six generations to the present day. Gee's Bend quilts have been on display in a traveling exhibit to many renowned museums across the country.

As Storton suspected, the women of Uganda easily identified with the women of Gee's Bend. Because of the similarities between the two groups, the Ugandan women had hope for success, the kind of success that can feed a family.

The women of Uganda make all their own clothes and use the leftovers to make cloth dolls but still the scraps were sent to the burn pile. Today the women have saved their scraps and use them to make quilts of their own distinction, leaving no waste.

Storton plans on returning with a minimum of 10 quilt tops and plans to quilt the tops and backing together here and sell them. Each quilt will have the quiltmaker's name, village and date it was made. All the profits will go to the quilters in Uganda who are fervently waiting for the next session of Janet Storton's Quilting School to reconvene.

But with 40 women to four treadle sewing machines, Storton has another task: to raise funds to buy more machines. Instead of buying them in the States and paying for shipping she has located a source in Kampala, Uganda, for much less cost.

If you are interested in making a donation, call Storton at 595-1818 or mail a check to P.O. Box 1743, Sisters, OR 97759. Make checks payable to Sisters Community Church and in the memo line: Mercy Ministries. Storton has a slide presentation on Uganda and is happy to present it to local groups.