Stitching a Community, One Thread at a Time

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In the home of David Lyles, I feel at peace, like I can take a deep breath and shed my skin of the world’s chaos. He often keeps the front door ajar, an invitation to the light and sound of the outdoors or neighbors coming by. Potted tops of pineapples grow vibrantly at the base of the main window, while quilting patterns and projects rest gracefully on a large wooden table in his living room. We sat here together recently to reflect on the Three Seasons Fashion Show that Mr. David created and held at Hargraves Community Center this past January.

Many folks in this community may know Mr. David as an avid quilter, or a talented creative who imbues spirit and story in the work he makes. He hosts weekly quilting classes at Hargraves Center, where local residents come together to weave and converse with each other. The class is a space for connection, conversation, and listening to one another to get to the root of what is going on in each person’s life. Mr. David is intentional in tuning his senses toward the divine spirit of what he says connects everyone in the room.

“Cause, see, I love people and I feel like people is angels that’s brushing wings together to survive in this world that we live in.”

The materials for the quilting class are donations-based, which have been slim this winter. Mr. David often digs into his own pockets to get supplies to support his vision for the class. He even bought a wagon to pull his sewing machine, template, and fabrics from his house to the Center. As his pockets get thin and the wagon weighs heavy, sometimes, he says, he doesn’t want to make the journey.

“But I made a promise. And, then, every time I go by that [Freedom Fighters] wall in front of the [St Joseph CME] church, it causes me to get energy because all those people in that wall was doing something to make a change.”

The quilting class houses the change that Mr. David wants to make in this world. It’s the power of the class, the process of keeping people together and seeing them for who they are, that moves him forward.

From the quilting class was born the fashion show. The idea came to Mr. David’s mind as a way of making money to buy batting, lining, fabrics, and other materials for the class, while bringing students and residents together as one. Folks would come together and donations would be taken by patrons of the show.

He tells me that in a fashion show, normally, you pick a season and show clothes for that season. This show, however, was to go beyond the norm. He had spring, summer, and fall materials, which he intended to put together as “one ball of wax.” “I wanted the fashion show to look like the people that live in this city. That’s the students and the residents. I wanted it to be mixed ‘cause I’m all about ‘Let’s pull together and make greatness.’”

So, on the warm afternoon of January 20th, 2024, greatness was made. The show, much like the quilting class, emphasized the importance of people seeing one another. Mr. David intentionally chose not to declare any one outfit to any particular season, for he wanted the people to make that decision for themselves.

“That challenged them to see, to open their mind and acknowledge what they see.”

Instead of telling us what to make of his work, Mr. David asks us to free our minds of the idea that there is just one way of seeing, of being, or of doing in this world. From there, we can learn to pay attention and form a deeper understanding and empathy for the people around us.

“You could be broken-hearted before the show, but when you start seeing beautiful things take the space where anger used to be, you can’t do nothing but live then.”

Mr. David believes the Three Seasons Fashion Show opened the door for more stuff to do in the future to support the quilting class. Next year he would love to do a fashion show centering African fabrics, mixing materials with clothing patterns to make something beautiful. He is forever certain in his vision to bring joy and laughter to the community. “I’ve been like this all my life, though,” he tells me later over the phone. “If I can make a person smile, I’ll make them smile.” Mr. David reminds me of the strength it takes to put our true selves out into the world and to relinquish control of what we think we know. We talk almost every day, and it was in our most recent conversation that he told me, “We don’t have to have somebody validate who we are.” This message appears to me to be the most salient in his artistic works: from the quilting class to the fashion show, he guides people toward their own decision-making, reminding each and every one of us of the power within.

As for Mr. David, he continues to create and support his beloved community through his art. The future may be uncertain, but one thing’s for sure.

“I’ll do quilting ‘til God takes my breath away, or I’m not able to pull the wagon no more.”

Written by Cameron Myers Milne

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