Member Spotlight: Lisa Rice

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After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center's twin towers, Lisa Rice turned her home into a hub for collecting comfort quilts for the families of the 343 firefighters who had lost their lives. She traveled with her son, who was about eight years old at the time, from Washington, D.C. to New York, and together, they hand-delivered the quilts to multiple fire stations. "It was my first time doing a charity quilt," said Rice. "I felt called to join the groups of international quilters who had joined together to support in the way we knew how." This first effort, Adopt-A-Firehouse Quilts, a project, based in New York and Washington, DC, set a precedent for what Rice would continue to do with her quilts over the next twenty-seven years of her quilting.

Top: The Kaleidoscope quilt Lisa made for the Santora Family of Ladder 41. Bottom (left to right): The quilt Lisa made for Connor of Ladder 41, Lisa's son Thomas wearing a fireman's hat at Ladder 41, and Lisa next to the quilt she made for Mary of Ladder 41.

"I've actually never made a quilt just for myself," said Rice. Only this year did she begin two full-length quilts that she hopes she can keep in her house to share with her husband. "Even with those, I keep setting them aside to work on something else." Rice is a quilter who has history in mind. When she began learning to quilt, her son's Montessori school requested that she make a quilt for the school auction. In the process of learning, she discovered her mother was a quilter, and so was her grandmother and great grandmother; Rice was a fourth-generation quilter. "Enslaved women, my ancestors, quilted because it was all they had: they wanted to wrap their children in something that would keep them warm." Rice recalls a memory of her daycare babysitter, an older woman in her eighties, sitting in the family room sewing without a machine, and thinking it was such an odd, slow, and aged out way of passing the time. Now Rice does whatever she can to preserve history.

Rice wants to be clear: "I'm not a historical quilter, but we can preserve history while still looking forward." When modern quilters think of the craft, they are most concerned with the design, color, and fabric, but Rice feels it is important to remember that quilting begins and ends with practical reasons for many people. In 2014, her best friend had a second breast cancer diagnosis, and it was becoming clear her time had come to transition. "I was making her a quilt to have in the hospital, and suddenly, I got a call from her mother telling me that time was running out." In the end, Rice only had time to create a quilt top, and when it came time for her friend's funeral, the priest suggested the family use the quilt as the pall. Rice's quilt covered her friend's casket as her family said their goodbyes. "It was very emotional," said Rice. "And then we decided we would put the quilt top in the casket so that it could be buried with her."

The quilt top Lisa made for her best friend after her friend's cancer diagnosis shown as the pall on her friend's casket. 

And when one's quilting ties with the tragedies of life, as a blanket of comfort, it is expected that Rice reaches a period when she doesn't sew a single stitch. After her friend's passing, she didn't sew for three years until she came across the Instagram page of Black Women Stitch, Lisa Woolfork. "By following Lisa, I was also introduced to the Social Justice Sewing Academy, which was founded by Sara Trail." Soon after meeting these two black female quilters, Rice took classes with Sarah Bond, another multi-generation quilter. Then she became a beta tester for an online class with Carole Lyles Shaw, who plans to come to Baltimore for the guild. "I have also been introduced to the Brown Sugar Stitchers in Atlanta who had a tribute for Congressman John Lewis with the guild leader, Elisa Woods, and the photographer who took his last photo, Danny Lyon." For BSSQG's 10th Anniversary celebration, late Congressman John Lewis had attended as an honoree. He shared that he collected quilts during the ceremony, and the women in his family had sewn quilts for many generations. "These are the things we don't know enough about," said Rice.

Rice has a business degree from MIT. She coached and mentored SJSA's Executive Director, Lauren Black, to help build class modules for students who have won grants with the Incubator Program. "In business, there is a process called "continuous improvement" to make your business better," said Rice. "You compare your benchmarks to others who are performing better than you, and then you seek to improve and reach those new benchmarks." That is how Rice approaches new techniques, and as a guild, she believes it's essential that we keep those efforts to improve in mind. "Many of the members in my guild, the Washington, DC Modern Quilt Guild, also help SJSA however they can—it's great."

Fabric hearts with the words "Michelle and Tony" on one and "Mom" on the other. 

​Rice has had friends who have passed away from cancer, and for them, she has made paper-pieced hearts. "And I made one for my oncologist when I was diagnosed with breast cancer." The DCMQG community is significant to Rice because, among many other reasons, they sewed the only quilt that Rice has for herself, which she was gifted while she was in recovery. In the winter, she throws it in the dryer, heats it, and wraps it around herself to stay warm.