To Russia, with love - a peace quilt from Boise

Four women bearing a humble quilt from Boise, Idaho, also bear testimony to the growing strength of the antinuclear movement in the United States.

The ''sew-a-quilt-for-peace'' movement is not formally part of the larger nuclear freeze movement. But what it seems to demonstrate is that concern about the growing nuclear arsenals of both the United States and the Soviet Union has now reached the most conservative, and nonpolitical, corners of the nation.

A group of 35 people in Boise, Idaho, most of them women, have put nearly 1, 000 hours of their time into sewing a seven-by-nine-foot ''friendship quilt,'' which is to be sent to the Soviet Union. On May 25, four representatives of the group - Scarlet Cessna, Pat Hall, Anne Hausrath, and Diane Jones - walked to the Soviet Embassy in Washigton, D.C., and presented their humble, but splendid, quilt to two Soviet cultural affairs officers.

The group was warmly received by the Soviets and told that the quilt would be well displayed at the Soviet Women's Committee building in the center of Moscow. It is a gift which the Boise group hopes will eventually go to a Soviet city comparable in size to Boise, and which will bring them into further contact with Soviet women.

It may be, one of the Boise group admits, a naive gesture. But the quilters felt the need to make a gesture. And they expect that the idea will catch on elsewhere in the United States.

The Boise quilters started by asking this question: What can ordinary people who are concerned - even frightened - about the prospect of nuclear holocaust do to help avert the ultimate disaster? A Methodist minister's wife in California has taken an interest in the Boise peace quilt and hopes to follow the Boise example. So has a group of 400 quilters in Chicago.

Only one member of the Boise 35 had engaged in any such public gesture before. She is Diane Jones, a slender mother of two small children who worked with the American Friends Service Committee in Vietnam and joined the antiwar movement. She now works part time as an interpreter for Vietnamese refugees.

Another mother of two, Anne Hausrath, took the idea of ''sewing for peace'' to Diane Jones. The two had had met while playing soccer for opposing teams sponsored by an electric company and a computer company.

According to Mrs. Hausrath, Mrs. Jones suggested that a quilt be sent to a city in the Soviet Union ''like Boise.'' The idea brought together a group as diverse as the quilt which they sewed. They included teachers, students, mothers , attorneys, artists, social workers, a girl scout leader, and a baker. Each agreed to design and sew a 12-inch square representing the theme of peace and friendship or scenes from Idaho. Only five had done any quilting before.

The vivacious, bespectacled Mrs. Hausrath says she had felt the need to act after hearing a woman from Utah speak about atomic bomb testing in the 1950s. The woman claimed the testing had damaged the health of relatives.

''I'm concerned because this is probably the most crucial issue we face . . . anywhere,'' says Mrs. Hausrath.

''Before this, I felt powerless,'' she adds. ''Now I feel like I'm doing something important.''

Mrs. Hausrath says that some of the concern about nuclear war which the Boise group shared grew out of ''the fact that people in Washington were talking about . . . the concept of limited nuclear war.''

One quilter joined after her 13-year-old daughter's Girl Scout troop was given a lecture on nuclear warfare by a civil defense coordinator.

Members of the Boise group tend to sympathize with the nuclear freeze proposal made by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Mark Hatfield (R) of Oregon. But Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Hausrath say that most not read the senators' proposal and were not sure of its details.

''This is not a very sophisticated approach,'' says Mrs. Hausrath. ''It appeals to people who tend to be nonpolitical.''

But she reports that the Republican attorney general of Idaho, Dave Leroy, had asked to hang the Boise peace quilt in his office for a day. She adds jokingly, ''Republicans are in favor of peace, too, you know.''

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