Reaping what she sews: 94-year-old spreads love through her embroidery

Published 2:39 pm Friday, March 3, 2023

On any given day, 94-year-old Aline Cochran can be found at her home in Danville sewing gifts for her friends.

At her age, she can’t get out of the house much, but still finds herself busy all the time.

“I stay busy, I’ve got things to do,” Cochran said. “I sit down and think about the things I want to do and I get it done.”

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She makes little hand-sewn things like aprons, handbags, pillow cases, and blankets for her friends, family, and people she knows in town like doctors and church members.

One friend she makes things for is Faye Best, who is also 94 years old. Best and Cochran have been friends for about 60 years, and they still see each other or talk almost every day.

Cochran said it usually takes her about two days to make little things. She also makes large quilts, which usually take a week or more to make.

“It doesn’t take her long, but anybody I know, it would take them years to make one of these,” Best said, referring to her quilts. “Usually when I come by she’s sitting there either reading or sewing.”

Cochran’s quilts are full of color and detail. In addition to using patterns from a book, Cochran embroiders by hand. She threads personalized messages on some things she gives to people.

“It takes love, it takes strength, it takes courage, it takes patience, it takes hope to get all this stuff done,” Cochran said.

All of her recent work is hand-sewn. Her sewing machine is upstairs, and since she has trouble getting up the stairs, she doesn’t use it.

Cochran collects material from local stores, and gets things that people around her don’t want anymore. She lays nothing to waste.

Whenever Cochran makes a dress for herself, she uses leftover material for her quilts. She makes star patterns and other patterns, like the little dutch girl, from all types of fabric.

“If I’ve got a dress that’s too big for me or too little, I’ll redo it, I’ll rip it up and refix it myself,” Cochran said. “I make my own slips, to keep me warm, and when they get a hole in them I’ll patch them; I don’t have to but I want to.”

A staple of Cochran’s work is the care and detail she puts into her quilts. Best said when looking closely at her work, you can see tons of little stitches that she made by hand.

“It’s so perfect and so clean,” Best said. “She embroidered all these little teeny tiny things, I don’t see how on earth anybody can do that.”

She’s been sewing since she was a teenager, and learned all by herself. A native of Casey County, Cochran grew up on a farm and only got up to a third grade education.

As a kid in the late 1930s, she wanted to become a nurse, and was told she could go to school to become one in eighth grade. But after third grade she had to work on the farm and couldn’t continue in school.

After that she taught herself the things she wanted to learn. She moved to Danville in her 20s and ended up working at a church for 11 years.

She worked as a caregiver, keeping people in her home from Eastern State Hospital for several decades. She’s been in her current house for 40 years, and one of her daughters lives with her. Cochran has 19 great-grandchildren, but hasn’t met some of them as they live in different states.

Cochran was involved in Centenary Methodist Church for many years, where Best said she made everyone smile.

“She had a smile and nice words to say about everybody in that place, and then every meal they ever served at the Methodist church when she was there, she helped cook, helped clean up, and she just made everybody who came in to see her smile; she knew the whole congregation,” Best said.

Cochran has made hundreds of things throughout her life, and some quilts she has are 20 to 40 years old. But she won’t give away or sell them.

She’s never entered them in any competitions. Some have never even been used. Although she’s made quilts for her extended family, she also just likes to make and keep them.

Cochran is also an avid scrapbooker, plant-carer, and collector. Her house is like a museum of little dolls, ceramic figurines, snow globes, pictures, books and magazines.

But the most important thing in her life is loving people, Cochran said.

“She’s a miracle, she’s an angel, she’s one of the finest people I’ve ever known,” Best said.

Best said they’ve got more things to do in life, and they aren’t going to die for a while.

“We’ve got work to do,” Cochran said. “And we’ve got friends to meet.”