Pastor’s homilies inspire grand-prize winning quilt block

COLUMBIA—Lily Neace listens carefully when her pastor, Father Steve Thoma, gives his homilies.

In memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., Father Steve was recently talking about how we are all brothers and sisters, no matter our race or color.

“Father Steve’s homilies encourage us to treat everyone fairly and with respect and I really agree with that,” Lily says. “We are told by the Bible and Jesus to treat everyone fairly.”

Lily, a seventh-grader at Immaculate Conception Grade School in Columbia, put those ideas into practice when she designed a quilt block that won the Grand Prize in the 2023 Annual School Block Challenge sponsored by the National Quilt Museum.

“I wasn’t expecting to win the Grand Prize,” Lily said after winning. “Even as I was creating it, I got a lot of compliments, but I figured there would be someone who had a better design.”

Racial justice has always been important to Lily, she says. “I feel everyone should have an equal opportunity. I also wanted to make a point how people of color have been mistreated and that it is still an issue today.”

The block shows an image of an enslaved person. Lily says the symbolism of the block is as important as the design elements. She used multiple quilting techniques to create the scene.

“When I was little I found a lot of joy in fashion,” she says. “I went to a sewing camp one summer, and our  teachers  Ms. Carol Fetcho and Ms. Karen Weiler were a big help teaching me the more advanced techniques of sewing,” she says., Janice Holdener and Jeanette Mellier also provided  guidance for the young quilters.

To be eligible for the competition, students in grades K-12 were asked to create a 16” quilt block, using a recognizable piece of three challenge fabrics, provided by Moda Fabrics, located in Farmers Branch, Texas. Additionally, the block must include some hand and machine stitching.

Winners were based on several criteria including, creative use of fabrics, overall craftsmanship and techniques, and overall composition.

Students were expected to put their math skills and creativity to work in creating a quilt square of their own design. 

The challenge included submissions from 32 states by 338 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Submissions had to be 16 inches by 16 inches, with an inch margin of error, and include some form of stitching. Organizers say the quilters are allowed to create whatever they want. Anything they can think of because the message of the Quilt Museum is that quilting is an art form.

In the 5th-8th grade division Avery Mellier (8th grade) placed 3rd and Amelie Knause (5th grade) and Alaina Ettling (5th grade) received Honorable Mention.

Lily says she wants to donate some of the $300 in prize money to a local  homeless shelter, and to help her parents with the groceries, but she will  use a little of it to treat herself and a friend at the mall.