In 1919, a group of women from Wartburg Congregation in St. Anthony Park (later to become St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church) formed a new organization, “The Quilting Ladies,” taking orders for quilts from both members of the congregation and nonmembers. The quilts were hand-stitched, and the money they raised went to the church’s Ladies Aid Society.
The quilting organization continues today, although with a slightly different purpose.
The quilts now are donated to a variety of charities, both local and international. Before Christmas, the quilts are distributed to local organizations such as the Salvation Army, the Dorothy Day Center, Union Gospel Mission and Rezek House (a transitional-living program for homeless youth ages 16-21). Sometimes members of the congregation who are in nursing homes or are shut-ins get quilts. After Christmas, all of the quilts go to Lutheran World Relief or to the Blue House, where children who have been orphaned by AIDS in Uganda can find food, shelter and help with education and basic life skills.
Each Thursday morning from September through May, six to 12 very dedicated regulars gather in the church parish hall to sew, talk, eat and share fellowship. They are all retired from careers that included education, medicine, law and homemaking; their ages range from early 60s to 97, so they have a vast wealth of experience to share.
The women help each other get out the sewing machines and fabric, as well as unfinished quilts from the week before. They each know which table to go to and who will be doing what: Some cut the fabric for the quilt tops, some piece them together on a sewing machine, some put the tops and bottoms of the quilts together and fill them with batting, some finish the edges and, finally, a couple of them tie the quilts through the “holey sheet,” their own invention with evenly spaced holes to allow for uniformity in tying. It’s “guerilla quilting,” they say, not precise or fancy, but fast. The quilts (about 100 each year) turn out beautifully.
The quilters follow the guidelines set up by Lutheran World Relief, including using bright colors (they don’t show the dirt) and making a 60-by-80–inch quilt (the size of a queen-size comforter). The quilts can have multiple uses besides bed coverings. They can be used as a baby carrier on a mother’s back, a sack for transporting goods to market (and a base for displaying market goods), a sunshade, a shawl and, of course, a reminder that someone far away cares.
The sewing machines are donated by church members, as is the fabric, thread and yarn. The batting is bought in bulk with funds from the church, and the quilters go to thrift stores to find the flat sheets that make up the quilt bottoms. The women do their own maintenance and troubleshooting on the machines, so quite a bit can be done with a little money.
Here are a few of the quilters:
Lila Storaasli, a former nurse who at 97 is the oldest member of the group, joined when she quit singing in the choir. She drives herself to the meeting every week because she likes to be able to contribute to the life of the church in a way that’s not too demanding, plus she enjoys the fellowship and friendship. She likes to hear new ideas and learn from the other members.
Jenifer Moberg, who joined after retiring from her nurse-anesthetist job just over a year ago, may be the newest member of the group. She says it’s a good way to get to know other people in the church, while providing a service, and looks forward to the conversations, coffee and devotions at the 10 a.m. break. “And it’s really fun to figure out how to put the pieces together—the quilts turn out so pretty!” she says.
Leslie Whitney started quilting in 2004 (while she was still working as a special education teacher) in order to bring her elderly mother each week. She continued to come even after her mother died because she enjoys sewing and loves to hear the stories the women have to tell. “The women of that generation are to be treasured and learned from,” Whitney says. She also appreciates how kind they were to her brother when he joined them for a time.
The quilting group is open to anyone who would like to join them, including non-church members. They meet each Thursday from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the church, 2323 Como Ave.
Michelle Christianson is a longtime contributor to the Park Bugle.