Magdalene Bright Wilks may be the busiest 96-year-old in Alabama. She teaches Sunday school at Macedonia #2 Church in Crossville, enjoys cooking and canning food — including popcorn — sews and gardens.
She is always smiling and isn’t afraid to hug a stranger. She is the quintessential “sweet old lady” who doesn’t let her age or double vision slow her down.
“She’s one of these people around town that you’re proud to know,” Alona Bright, her niece, said.
Wilks’ latest project involved stitching together more than 1,000 individual squares of fabric, each with its own color and pattern, to form a large, queen-plus sized quilt.
There are many things that make the quilt special to Wilks, her daughter, Pam Miller, and Bright starting with the fabric itself, which was brought over from Ghana more than 40 years ago.
June and Jim Gray, Wilks’ other daughter and son-in-law, were in the Peace Corps stationed in Ghana in the 1970s where they had to make their own clothes, Bright said. Upon learning she was pregnant, June gathered the fabric to make her future son a quilt.
“[June] was not a quilter,” Bright said. “She did not know what she was doing.”
The fabric went into a closet until Bright pulled it out decades later and tasked her aunt to finish the project.
“This year, to keep Magdalene out of the garden, I asked her if she wanted to work on this quilt, and she tackled it day and night, constantly, until she had it done,” Bright said.
It took Wilks six weeks to finish, starting where June Gray left off, and it was not easy, even for “the perfect quilter,” Bright said.
Wilks said all of the colors and patterns hurt her eyes and the intricacies of sewing so many small pieces wore out her hands.
“The precious thing about this is her heart — her willingness to take it on,” Bright said. “That is a huge undertaking, and there is not a quilter on this mountain that would have done that or will even be able to believe it.”
A green border surrounds the quilt, embroidered with what Bright says is a symbol for life and family legacy. The last living member out of 11 siblings, Wilks is the spiritual matriarch that holds her family together.
“She’s the one that holds our family accountable, together,” Bright said. “She encourages and loves us all, even though we’re weird. She prays for all of us, and I just feel the love in everything she does.”
Bright said Wilks prays over each quilt she makes and for its owner while she works.
Simon Gray, the now 43-year-old son of June and Jim, will finally get his quilt after many years, something Bright is sure will be a pleasant surprise.
“I cannot contain my joy at what this means to our family,” Bright said.