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Eighty-four-year-old James Hagins is a retired Lancaster resident. He spends his days taking it easy, napping in his recliner when he feels like it. When he lost his wife of 60 years, Peggy, in September of 2012, he found an unusual outlet for his grief – quilting.
“My mother quilted, and with eight of us children, she definitely had help when she needed it,” he said. “I didn’t mind helping her, and sometimes I was the only one she would let help, because I did things the way that suited her.”
So far Hagins has made 69 small quilts, about the size of an average throw blanket, and five full bed-sized quilts. The material has come from various sources, including some that belonged to his mother and his sister. Some, he said, came from Peggy’s clothes.
So far he has made the quilts just for friends and family, and some of the quilts have final destinations like Charleston and Florida. He made a quilt for one of his granddaughter’s college roommates, however, when he found out that she was having a tough time with some family issues.
“I just felt sorry for her,” he said. “And I thought that having a quilt might give her a little touch of home, you know, that it might make her feel a little better.”
One quilt. made for a great-nephew who is in ministry, has a cross worked into the pattern. There is a Clemson quilt, which Hagins said was easy to make because it is just one big piece of material rather than the smaller squares.
“Most of the small quilts take about 30 or 40 hours to make,” he said. “The Clemson one only took about 10 hours. The bigger ones of course take longer. But I work on them when I feel like it, I don’t try to rush.”
There is a process to getting everything ready when Hagins makes a quilt. He has handmade guides and wooden measuring pieces to help him cut the material first into strips, then into squares.
He has a table in his workroom that is just for the squares, which holds 84 squares laid out at a time. He usually cuts 20 or so squares of the same pattern, then picks five different patterned or colored squares and clips them together to work into the body of the quilt. Once both sides of the quilt have been completed, he has a frame that he uses to put the quilt together and add the final stiching.
“So far I’ve used about 6,000 squares,” he said. “And it is so important to get those squares cut to the right size that you want them to be. I make sure I have measuring pieces in all different sizes so I can have any size square I might decide to use.”
Hagins said that when he makes the quilts for specific people, he keeps in mind their favorite color and patterns that compliment or enhance it.
He said two of his granddaughters come over and help him pick out squares to put together, but sometimes they don’t always agree on what looks good together.
“I made a quilt one time, and when I got done with it, I decided it was just ugly and I was going to re-do it,” he said. “But before I could, my granddaughter came over and told me it was one of the most beautiful ones I had made. I sure couldn’t understand, and afterward, when people would see it, they would comment on how pretty it was and ask me how in the world I came up with it. I told them I really didn’t know.”
Hagins operates his sewing machine in an efficient and practiced manner, though he has lost the feeling in three fingers on his right hand.
“I cut my hand some time ago and lost the feeling in the first finger, my pointer finger,” he said. “Then I dropped a board on that hand, and lost the feeling in my thumb and middle finger. So I started using my ring finger to do most of the work without even realizing it. But I get by with it just fine so far. It just makes it a little more challenging sometimes, that’s all.”
Hagins said he plans to keep on quilting as long as he is able.
“I know that these quilts mean a lot to the family,” he said. “They are important keepsakes and I am glad to be able to do this for the ones I love.”