Every Christmas, Mary Curles would sit happily next to bundles of handmade baby clothes, bibs, crocheted coat hangers, pot holders and afghans at the First Presbyterian Church of Amagansett’s annual Christmas sale. She knew her hard work would pay off, as community members perused the selection of crafts that she and her friends painstakingly made.Through her 66-year involvement in the church’s Women’s Guild, Ms. Curles helped raise money for the congregation and other community organizations through her craft. Now, as the guild’s membership has dwindled and there is no one to replace those who have grown old or died, the remaining women have decided it would be best to disband.
On Saturday, the Women’s Guild held its final event—the Christmas sale—and its members were honored after the Sunday morning service at church for the guild’s hard work and dedication, which lasted nearly 80 years.
Ms. Curles, 90, a lifelong resident of Amagansett who joined the guild in 1948, saw it from its early days to its end. She was a part of the ceremony on Sunday.
“I am sad for the fellowship most of all,” Ms. Curles said. “I like being around people, but I’m not able to do the work that I used to be able to do. I would have to get the needle out of the machine and put it back in and make 30 potholders at a time.”
In 1934, Presbyterian Church member Mary King gathered together a large group of women to help earn money to cover expenses at the church and at Scoville Hall. At first, the group was called the “Mothers Club.” It had 75 women enrolled by the end of its first month, according to the Reverend Steven Howarth.
Not only did the group raise funds through selling arts and crafts, and with cake sales, the women would hold different suppers—pancake and sausage dinners, clam chowder and clam pie meals, and chicken salad and lobster salad dinners in summer.
According to Rev. Howarth, the guild raised approximately $100,000 for the church over the course of its existence. With that money, the women provided flowers for the church for Easter and Mother’s Day; took flowers to the ill or shut-in; purchased dishes, tables, chairs, curtains and other items for Scoville Hall; donated money toward the purchase of the church organ; gave fruit to Sunday School children every year after the Christmas pageant; and gave gifts to the pastor and pastor emeritus each Christmas.
Lucy Bennett, the guild’s president of 11 years, said that the group also gave funds to Meals on Wheels, the East Hampton Food Pantry, the Community Council, East End Hospice, the Wounded Warrior Project, Church World Services, and supported the Reverend Robert Beecher Stuart’s trip to Cuba and donated to the relief of the tsunami and earthquake victims in Japan.
“It was very gratifying to work with a group of ladies who put all their work and effort to make a successful club, and it was,” she said. “They worked together, and they were very proud of the items they made.”
At least three-quarters of the guild members were members of the craft committee that made and sold their wares.
“It seems like everyone was so talented,” Ms. Curles said. “Each person had their own unique thing to do. We’d make all kinds of baby clothes, burpers, embroidered scarves, quilts and pillowcases—and we always stopped to have tea and cookies.”
She said she remembered what everyone was the best at. “Lottie Lester crocheted the most beautiful baby dresses,” she said. “Betty Warren was talented in embroidering. She was perfect and could do things that no one else could do.”
But after so many years, the vivacious group of young women was bound to grow older. Over the last few years, the membership sat at roughly a dozen women, most becoming less able to knit and crochet the way they used to. Unfortunately, no one has stepped up to replace those who have left.
“It’s a shame it had to end,” Ms. Bennett said. “It’s the times. It’s change. Life is change.”
According to Ms. Curles, the guild gave its last donation of over $5,000 to the church on Sunday. She said it is the least the group has ever given from its Christmas sale.
“As far as I had, it was nothing,” she said. “I made 18 coat hangers. I feel like the local people didn’t come to the Christmas sale because we didn’t have anything to offer.”
Ms. Bennett, 82, said it has become discouraging to see the number of members and items for sale decrease. “We had so much before and so many people working,” she said. “Now, younger people don’t have time. In every home, the wife and husband are both working. It seems to be a lost art, knitting and crocheting.”
Rev. Howarth said the change in society has played a major role in the death of the Women’s Guild. “Women’s role in society and in the church has changed so significantly,” he said. “In the life of the church, you don’t need a separate group for women. There was a time when women didn’t have a place in church and in different organizations. That has changed completely.”
As she looked through a book of information and memories about the Women’s Guild, Ms. Curles said she grew close to those she worked and spent time with. She marveled at the delicate gifts she and her friends proudly sold over the years.
“Everybody made beautiful things,” she said. “You name it, we made it.”