Article in Milestones by Constance Garcia-Barrio
Teresa Yu, 83, and Margie Gale, 69, who once lived half a world apart, now meet at Journey’s Way senior community center, 403 Rector St. in Roxborough, to co-create dazzling quilts. Rose, violet and other lively colors present in their quilts – on exhibit near the entrance – greet visitors even before the staff says the first hello.
Serendipity took a hand in their unlikely collaboration. Gale, raised in Roxborough, first learned about Yu, born in Macau – Portugal’s former colony in Asia – at a Ridge Avenue street fair in April 2018. Gale happened to strike up a conversation with Yu’s son Ming, who lives close by and takes Yu to Journey’s Way three days a week. “She told me about knitting and weaving classes at Journey’s Way,” Ming recalled, speaking for his mother, whose native language is Cantonese.
Yu had moved to the area from California in 2015 after her husband had died to live near Ming and his partner. “She was grieving not only for my dad, but for the friends she’d left behind,” Ming said, noting that Yu was struggling with health issues and depression. “The minute Margie spoke of the classes, it gave me a surge of hope because Mom loves fabric.”
A slow start
It took time for Ming to convince his mother to try Journey’s Way, perhaps in part because Yu speaks limited English. When she first visited June 7 to attend a weaving class, things got off to a shaky start. “Teresa seemed quiet, a little shy,” said Gale, who attended the same class and showed Yu around. At the end of that first day, when Gale asked Yu if she was coming back, Yu wouldn’t look at Gale or answer. Gale recalled: “When I said,‘Do you like people to miss you?’ Teresa said no. Then I said, ‘If you don’t come back, we’ll miss you.’”
Yu and Gale began taking quilting classes together in November. They soon found that they had complementary skills. “Mom has a knack for choosing cloth of just the right color to combine in the quilt squares,” Ming said, noting that individuals and businesses, including Gaffney Fabrics of Germantown, donate cloth for the classes. Yu decides which pieces go into the quilt’s 6-inch square, cuts them into strips, and then pins them into the desired pattern. Gale does the sewing and finishing. Finishing requires several steps, noted instructor Judy Gelzinis Donavan, a renowned Philadelphia bead and fiber artist who has created art-to-wear garments for many years.
After the quilt pieces are sewn together into a quilt top, a ‘quilt sandwich’ is made by laying out a backing fabric — the underside of the quilt — a layer of batting to make it fluffy, and then the quilt top as the final layer. As Donavan said, “It’s labor-intensive.
A background in the artful use of fabric helped Yu and Gale slip past cultural differences. “My mother had a tailor shop in Overbrook,” Gale said. “She could make anything. She could take a man’s suit and turn it into a boy’s suit.”
Yu, the only girl in a family of five siblings in Macau, began designing her own clothes early. Her marriage deepened her love of fabric and sense of design; her husband was in the textile business. Yu became known for her winning sense of style, especially when she wore a cheongsam, a traditional, long, formfitting Chinese dress of cotton or silk that can be seen in books and some old Charlie Chan movies. “Mom created suspense,” Ming said. “People wanted to see what she was wearing at important social events. It helped my dad’s business.”
“Teresa still has more than 200 outfits,” Gale said. “I’ve visited her home and seen them. She could put on a fashion show all by herself.” In a way, she does. Members of Journey’s Way are always eager to see Yu’s elegant dresses and accessories. Besides sharing with Yu a love of fabric and classy clothes, Gale harbors a longtime affinity for Asian art that helped put the friendship on firm ground. “I was into Chinese and Japanese culture growing up,” said Gale, who graduated from Roxborough High School.
“The images I found in books fascinated me.” Gale envisions their quilting blossoming further under the tutelage of Donavan, who finds the pair’s quilts “strikingly different.” She and Yu are in the learning stages now with the quilts, but she sees possibilities for the future. “I can see us selling quilts in the future. We have an annual Christmas-in-July event here that’s open to the public,” Gale said. “It features scarves, aprons, backpacks, booties – a whole range of items.
Teresa and I will work toward being included.” Meanwhile, Ming marvels at the change in his mother since she began making quilts at Journey’s Way. “Quilting has made a huge difference for her,” he said. “She’s much happier.”
CAPTION: Teresa Yu, 83, left, and Margie Gale, 69, work together to create a quilt at Journey’s Way senior community center in Roxborough. Photo by Robin Miller.
Journey’s Way will display quilts made by Teresa Yu, Margie Gale, and their classmates for the Annual Art Show to celebrate Older Americans Month. A meet-the-artist reception will take place Friday, May 3, from 4 to 6 p.m.