growing one stitch at the time
Grandma Arlean has won over 250 ribbons for her hand-stitched quilts. The number of awards could have been twice as many, but Arlean, who learned to quilt at the age of 15, didn’t enter any quilt competitions until 1976 when she was in her late 30s.
“We went to a local fair where we looked at quilts,” Arlean remembered, “and when my kids saw the quilts on display, they decided to enter one of my quilts as they thought mine were better, and it took a blue ribbon. So then I was hooked!”
Today, Arlean, who will be 77 this month, works full time at a quilt shop owned by her daughter near Pequot Lakes.
Arlean started quilting over 60 years ago at the age of 15. She was one of nine children and two foster children who grew up on a 100-acre farm near Finlayson, Minn., where the family raised a dozen head of cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. In order to earn more money for the family, Arlean’s father worked away from home on the iron ore boats on the Great Lakes. When her brothers were drafted into the military, Arlean, the oldest of the daughters, ran the farm at the age of 15.
“I was always a tomboy and began to work in a man’s world, driving all the farm machinery,” she shared, “but I still wanted to be a girl.” She said that many people laughed at her, and she was shunned by kids in school.
“Because I had to work on the farm, I missed a lot of school, especially during birthing time. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, a woman working on a farm as I did, well, it was like a dancing bear,” she laughed.
But Arlean was strong and determined. After combining a neighbor’s oats, the farmer told her that he would pay her only half as she was half the size of a man.
“So I took half of his oats and augured them into a swamp!”
In order to do more feminine things, Arlean read books about quilting, and asked the neighbor ladies to teach her how to quilt.
She also wanted to learn how to hand quilt. “So I went to a nursing home and walked the hallways and asked if anyone could help me. Heads began popping out of doorways, and I got help.”
The Monopoly quilt was the first game board quilt made during the 1980s. Due to copyright issues, a lawyer for Parker Brothers, the maker of the game at that time, contacted Arlean saying that they wanted the quilt and the pattern. Letters and phone calls were exchanged, and in anticipation that Parker Brothers officials may come to her home, Arlean burned the pattern she had made.
During the last phone call with the company’s legal staff, the spunky quilter told the voice on the phone, “If you think a big time corporation can beat small town USA, it won’t happen!” She never heard from corporate America again.
In addition to her many ribbons, Arlean has been featured in quilting magazines and one of her quilts was juried and accepted at the American Quilter’s Society show in Paducah, Kent., where she was honored with the Viewers’ Choice Award.
Arlean also heads up the annual Quilt-a-Thon that will be held March 29 at the Trailside Center in Pequot Lakes starting at 9 a.m. Every year quilters gather to make quilts for children in crisis.
“No experience is needed,” Arlean emphasized. “It’s a potluck so we eat all day and quilt all day. It’s a fun time!”
Arlean claims that the best times are when her family comes together to create quilts. “We all have our separate charities we make quilts for, but we all come together at the state fair every year,” she added.
This will be the 22nd year that the Rosemore family will be at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 31 to invite children to color squares to make quilts for needy children through the family’s Kids Helping Kids program. The demonstration booth is located in the Creative Arts building on the fairgrounds where children use fabric crayons to draw pictures which are ironed on to create quilts which have 12 squares per quilt.
“Last year at the fair it was 103 degrees with no air conditioning,” Arlean grimaced, “so we didn’t have as many children, but we were still able to make 27 quilts.”
While at a Minnesota Twins baseball game several years ago, fans who were wearing neckties were asked to cut off their ties. Arlean and her family made a necktie quilt that was auctioned off by the Twins for $5,800 that went to research for Parkinson’s disease.
Through their charity work, the Rosemores and area quilters have donated over 300 quilts every year. Not only do the warm quilts help the needy in the area but also overseas.
For several years, a Brainerd medical team traveled to Tanzania, and 50 quilts were included in their baggage.
Last summer, Morena, Arlean’s 14-year-old granddaughter, and Mary’s daughter, invited fellow 4-Hers and the Jenkins quilters in helping her to make 100 quilts over a four-month period. The quilts were delivered in October to a preschool in Zulu Natal, South Africa, with help from Greg and Jessica Cheek, summer residents in the area. The cost for shipping was donated by area businesses. The quilts were given to children in the preschool who had no blankets with which to nap on a concrete floor. As part of the 4-H Leadership Program, Morena’s project earned her the Grand Champion purple ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair.
The young quilt maker used her artistic talents as well in a creating her first hand-painted textile quilt, Kingdom of the Crimson Dragon, that also won Grand Champion at the state fair, and the Rising Star award, Instructor’s Choice award and the first-place award at the Indian Summer Quilt Show in Fargo last year.
The quilt will be shown in April at the Machine Quilting Show in Wichita, Kan., and will be showcased at the Minnesota Quilters’ annual show in June at St. Cloud.
Crawling out from under one of the two large quilting machines in her mother’s quilt shop, 8-year-old Dana has also completed a quilt that she designed that won first place at the Crow Wing County Fair last summer.
“I like quilting because I can choose my favorite colors to make it, and we can donate quilts, too,” she said with a large smile. What doesn’t she like about quilting? Her quick response, “I don’t like that the needles can poke you!”
Mary, who has also won many awards for her quilting talents, was a building contractor for 15 years in which she designed and built homes.
She agreed that designing homes has helped her in designing quilts. “It’s just a different medium,” she noted.
Arlean’s son, Dan, lives in Pengilly, and enjoys making fur quilts, both from real and faux fur. Son, Ralph Jr., lives in Eau Claire, Wisc., and daughter, Ranae (Walsh), creates quilts in Cloquet.
Arlean has a great sense of humor and loves to laugh. While living near Floodwood, she wrote funny eulogies for funerals, and also humorous writings for birthdays or retirements. Her writings were included in one of her three books, Small Town is Like a Large Family. She also helped her brother, Bennie Burk, write a book about his days working on the Alaskan pipeline. Her third book, Whimsical Witticisms, was just released in February, which includes over 40 years of funny sayings and jokes that she wrote down. She has not yet written a book about quilting, but with her determination, it just may happen.
While running the family farm as a teen and missing so many days of school, Arlean never graduated from high school. But at the age of 73 she received her GED by taking classes through a community education program.
“While taking classes, we had to write two essays,” Arlean concluded. “One that I wrote was “How to Succeed Without Graduating from High School.”
Arlean Rosemore has succeeded.