How Quilting Helped Jean Ameduri, C’69, Establish Lasting Cultural Connections
As soon as Jean Ameduri crossed the threshold, she could tell how different her life was compared to those of her new friends. She had heard and read about life in Russia in the early 1990s. She even had a brief glimpse during a whirlwind international tour a few years prior.
But when she stood in the kitchens of women she had just met, the realities came grimly into focus.
Little sunlight filtered into the Russian homes that Ameduri, a 1969 graduate of Saint Mary, was lucky enough to visit. The kitchens were so cramped that furniture was stored under tables. There were few residences with running water, and simple appliances – ones Ameduri and many others took for granted – were rarely available to low-income citizens.
Many things differentiated Ameduri from these women, but she focused on the common thread between them – an interest in quilting.
Ameduri began quilting in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, with a simple goal of connecting to one of the country’s early traditions. Within a year, she founded the Thimble and Thread Quilt Guild of Greater St. Louis – now the oldest and often largest guild in the city. By 1980, she had read 100 books on the subject and began teaching the craft to others.
So when Ameduri saw promising quilters with limited supplies during her 1992 tour of Russia, she felt called to act.
Before the trip, she had already gathered six sewing machines, nearly five dozen can openers, and fabric to distribute to her local hosts. But when she returned home, Ameduri’s quilting missionary work reached new heights.
In the decades since, she has spent countless hours calling leaders of quilting and sewing supply companies for donations. Sometimes she asks for sewing machines to take to quilt guilds during her next trip abroad. Other times she asks for small items such as scissors and thread – tools of the trade that might help impoverished people improve their lives.
“When they saw that I was bringing them thread, I was treated like a queen,” Ameduri said. “They asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It’s because they are quilters, and they needed it. Machines, scissors, thread, and fabric might be small drops in the bucket, but it means the world to me that they can create better lives with the things I’ve shared with them. I hope these gestures help lift them out of poverty and provide a spirit of hope in their lives.”
Ameduri has returned to Russia with supplies three more times over the years – once with roughly 1,000 pounds of donated goods. She’s also visited international quilt guilds during two trips to South Africa and intends to travel to India in 2021 as a quilting missionary.
“Americans make quilts to put beautiful objects on their beds and walls,” Ameduri said. “People in many other countries make quilts to sell so that they can have slightly better lives. These donations allow them to sell their work and put food on the table immediately. When you see the smiles on their faces, it makes it all worth it.”
In addition to donating supplies, Ameduri has also created opportunities for quilters of varying backgrounds to share ideas, techniques, and traditions.
She has long been interested in Russian quilts because they are rarely displayed at international exhibitions. With large stitches and depictions of Russian churches and fairy tales, the pieces are also strikingly different from traditional American quilts.
To help showcase international work, Ameduri established a program for her guild to exchange miniature quilts with others from around the globe. She enlisted the help of quilters she had met at international festivals and used the internet to recruit others. By 2001, her group received more than 300 miniature quilts from 22 countries.
“This was a gigantic project that took two years to complete,” Ameduri said. “It was so successful that I have personally continued exchanging miniature quilts – 24 inches or less – with many other quilters when I travel around the world. We are excited about the friendships and bridges created between countries.”
Today, Ameduri has traveled to more than 30 countries and continues to bring her passion for service wherever she goes.
“My life has been fulfilling with still more goals on my to-do list,” she said. “Part of my success definitely comes from my life at Saint Mary. The classes, the extracurricular activities, and the camaraderie of the students and staff led me to be a confident and educated person who strives to give back to her community and make the world a better place.”