Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The American quilting circle, redefined


Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Sobia Nawaz, an immigrant from Pakistan and one of the Tuesday Ladies, at work behind a pile of quilts

This afternoon I dropped in on a quilting circle, spending time with a group of women who meet once a week to sew and enjoy one another's company. Save for a few smallish details, it could have been a scene straight out of Normal Rockwell: A sun-dappled room in a rambling Pasadena house, a pitcher of sweet lemonade on the coffee table, the women sewing and embroidering surrounded by a sea of fabric.

But the Tuesday Ladies, as they call themselves, are not what one might immediately picture when a Pasadena quilting circle comes to mind. The women are Muslim immigrants from a variety of places - Pakistan, Bosnia, Iran, India, Palestine - who meet once a week to sew quilts that they sell for a cause.

The money they raise - so far, more than $25,000 in about five years - goes to benefit disaster victims, chiefly female survivors of Pakistan's 2005 earthquake who were left without family assistance. So far, the Tuesday Ladies have raised enough to construct disabled-access homes in Pakistan for five women who were injured in the quake.

"It's pretty international, quilting," said Kamila Jeevanjee, a Pakistani immigrant who coordinates the construction projects. "In old times, every little bit of something had to find a use. If you had scraps of fabric, what better way to use them? By quilting, you are creating a warm blanket for yourself."

Proceeds from the quilts, which typically sell for $1,000 apiece and more, have also gone toward Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Now, as Pakistan reels from the effects of devastating floods that have ruined crops and left an estimated 20 million homeless, the quilting circle plans to channel part of the money raised by quilt sales toward relief efforts there. Several women in the group are Pakistani immigrants, already involved in a number of other Pakistani community fundraisers for the flood victims.


Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Tahereh Sheerazie, quilting circle organizer, and Sobia Nawaz

Some of the quilts they sell are made by the same earthquake victims they assist. Tahereh Sheerazie, who coordinates the weekly quilting session at her Pasadena home, takes donated fabric scraps once a year to disabled female quake survivors when she visits her native Pakistan. The women there design and make their own quilts, which the group then brings to the U.S. to sell, putting the money back into its construction projects for the disabled in Pakistan.

The Tuesday Ladies began getting together to quilt 12 years ago. At first, "the cause was to recycle and to be creative," Sheerazie said, nothing more. They sewed, read the Quran together, and bonded as they went about life and raising families in their adopted country. Gradually, they began raising money for various charities through garage sales. Then Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, followed closely by the earthquake in northern Pakistan, which killed tens of thousands. At the time, they had five completed quilts - so they sold them and donated the proceeds to relief efforts for both.

The group has been making quilts to raise money for the quake victims since. The quilts are intricately designed and sometimes extravagant, with designs made from luxurious cast-offs, like a gold-embroidered wedding sari donated by a Pakistani-American woman, now sewn into glittering patches that adorn one quilt. On another quilt, pieces of an old pink sari share space with pieces of a donated Japanese kimono.

Though the quilts are sold at quilt-specific fundraisers, garage sales are still in the picture for other causes. Sheerazie, who makes planters from recycled materials, is hosting a plant and clothing sale at her home on Sunday, with proceeds to go toward flood relief in Pakistan. Another Pakistani community event for the flood victims, a fundraising dinner, takes place Saturday in Pacific Palisades. Jeevanjee organized a flood-relief community garage sale in Orange County last weekend, and is organizing future sales, since the situation in Pakistan is expected to worsen as food supplies shrink.

"Because of the floods, people are digging deep into their garages," Jeevanjee said.