When Lanora Frazier set out to make a quilt featuring all the presidents, Barack Obama had just been elected the 44th president of the United States. When she finally finished it, Obama was serving the last month of his term. She didn't intend for the project to stretch over the eight years of Obama's administration, but it does seem fitting.
"If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do my very best on it," Frazier said, explaining that her commitment to quality work ended up taking a lot of time. "There's not one sewing machine stitch. Everything is hand-made."
The idea for the quilt, which features embroidered faces of each of the first 44 presidents, came from Frazier's mother, Beulah, in December 2008. The two, avid black history buffs, were thrilled by the recent election of America's first African-American president, and Beulah suggested her daughter commemorate the historic event with a quilt.
"My daughter is a quilt-maker," Beulah, 85, explained. "She's made everyone in our family their own quilt. I told her, 'Have you ever thought about making one of all the presidents?'"
The Fraziers knew Lanora, 65, could tackle the project, thinking it would probably take a year, maybe two, to finish. But the quilt would prove to be a greater undertaking than either had imagined; the first year of work came and went with only a few of the presidents done, even with Lanora spending the majority of her free time and countless late nights hard at work on it.
"When she told me, I had in my mind, 'I could hurry up and make this,'" Lanora, a former home ec teacher and current substitute teacher, recalled. "I started and (thought) 'Oh wait.' I realized this was going to take longer than I thought."
Lanora completed between four and six presidents a year, taking great care in every little detail. From the color of Rutherford B. Hayes' beard to the shine of Theodore Roosevelt's glasses, each president is easily identifiable. Many of them even have little lines around their eyes. Lanora made two squares of Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. An embroidered eagle and 50 stars are also on the three-dimensional quilt.
The man whose historic presidency inspired the project is given slightly bigger real estate on the quilt, which ended up being 52 inches by 79 inches. Lanora finished her "All Presidents Quilt" on Dec. 29, 2016.
The omission of the 45th president wasn't on purpose. Lanora, thinking the project would be done well within Obama's first term, had drawn all the presidents' faces on the quilt at the beginning of the project. She never dreamed it would take so long that Obama's successor would need to be considered. (The Fraziers, passionate Obama fans, said they pray for God to lead the new president in a positive direction.)
Hand-stitching is hard work and can take a toll on a quilter's hand. For that reason, Lanora sometimes had to take a break for a week to rest up, knowing if she pushed herself too hard she could hurt herself and the quilt might never be finished. She knows her abilities well, having sewn since she was 12 or 13 years old. Her mother taught her, and the Frazier family tradition of sewing is now living on in the next generation: Beulah's teenage granddaughter Alyssa Frazier, who hopes to be a fashion designer.
The president quilt is just one way the Fraziers show their pride in their heritage. Beulah and Lanora collect newspapers, magazines and memorabilia of important black history icons, like Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. Their love for black history comes in part from their life before Bakersfield, where they moved in 1965 from Birmingham, Ala. Mounting racial tension and hostility toward blacks during the Civil Rights movement in the South had the Fraziers looking to move somewhere else, and they had family in Bakersfield.
"It was a painful era," Beulah said. "It's why we're so deeply interested in and take pride (in black history)."
A room in the home they share is dedicated to their collection, with items like an Obama train set, Obama lighthouses and Obama figurines. Next on Beulah's wish list is a Barack and Michelle Obama doll set. They were also recently gifted more Obama goodies from an anonymous donor, whom they wish to thank for the generosity.
One of the Fraziers' favorite pieces in the collection, though, is a personal one: a photo of Beulah's granddaughter and Lanora's niece Shelea with the former President and First Lady, for whom Shelea had sung at the 2009 inauguration.
The Fraziers are hoping the quilt will eventually catch the eye of the man it honors. Though he wasn't perfect, Beulah said, she and her daughter are proud of his presidency.
"We want him to see this," Beulah said of the quilt. "Because he was the first black president, that goes with our pride. We want him to see how much we appreciate it."
Now that it's finished, the quilt belongs to Beulah, a gift from her daughter. The two will find some way to seal and preserve the quilt so it doesn't get discolored or damaged.
"As far as I know, there is not another quilt like this around. It's kind of shocking to me that I actually finished it," Lanora said. "I am very, very glad it's over with, but I can see the reward in it now."