The Chelsea Senior Center is a place where most of the City’s older crowd goes to relax.
That’s not the case, though, for several ladies who have created nothing short of a quilt factory on the second floor of the Center, overlooking City Hall Square.
Sitting at the sewing machine chugging along with nary a need for a break is Mary Frangiamone. Jean Perry – the founder of the group – uses the scissors like a surgeon and Eileen Gregory – another founder – puts them all together quickly. There is rarely a moment or a movement wasted.
Angela Panarese, on the other hand, provides the entertainment – or so she says.
“We all started doing this every Friday 10 years ago,” said affable Essex Street resident Panarese. “We buy our own materials and collect our own scraps to sew together. It’s about like a factory here. Eileen puts them together and Jean cuts them out. I do all the big talkin’ or I go get them coffee.”
Far from it, though.
While Panarese, who will soon be 90, is full of jokes, she is also full of the ability to quilt at a rapid pace – like the other ladies in the quilting circle.
For the third straight year, Panarese has made a quilt by hand for the Chelsea Community Garden – a piece that will be auctioned off to help the group buy a new shade shelter.
“We’re going to have Angela’s quilt in our raffle that will happen during the Art Walk this weekend,” said Community Gardener Margaret Carsley. “We’ve made about $1,000 over the two years, which is going t pay for our new shade shelter. Angela has a plot in the garden and told us she wanted to do whatever she could to help. The quilt will more than help, I’m guessing.”
Panarese said she has lived on the same street for more than 80 years – and has found a nice place to do her sewing overlooking the Creek and the Boston skyline.
“I found that I love quilting,” she said. “It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. I don’t use a pattern. I collect little scraps of material and put them all together. What I really love to do is sit by my window and work. I’m right across from where the Coast Guard Station used to be. I just watch the boats go by and sew away. I love that.”
The group began in order to make quilts for homeless children and for babies with AIDS in the hospital at Boston Medical Center. Since then, they’ve also made quilts for the Women’s Club, Rosie’s Place Shelter, the Chelsea Firefighters, Beverly School for the Deaf, TheatreZone/Appolinaire and St. Rose Church.
Panarese said that putting the scraps together into quilts is a testament to her true Chelsea rags to riches story.
“I really do have a true rags to riches story in Chelsea because I started working in rag shops here – Beacon Supply, which was a rag shop,” she said with a laugh. “My cousin got us up out of bed one day and said they were hiring at the rag shop and we had better get down there. That was the worst job I ever had – sorting out rags with rubbish in it and everything. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.”
And when she was 18, Panarese said she got out of there and got hired at her father’s work, TRW/United Carr in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. She helped build the framework of airplanes during World War II.
“My father worked there and that’s the only reason I got out of the rag shop and in there,” she said. “My dad had to bribe the guy who did the hiring. It took four Enrico Caruso opera records to get me in the door.”
Panarese said she still loves Chelsea and often recalls the days when Chelsea High School was predominantly Jewish – and Italians like herself could look forward to being the few students at school during Jewish holidays.
“My childhood in Chelsea was very good,” she said. “It was a wonderful place to live, and I still love my street after all these years.”