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Fergus Falls quilting guild turns 30

The vibrant colored fabrics and detailed designs of Janis Erlandson’s quilting projects are inspiring. Her mentors, Erlandson’s mother and grandmother, taught her the basics. Later, after the Fergus Falls woman married and was raising a family, she found time for a quilting class where she learned new techniques and quilting patterns. The class was the start of a new quilting venture for the area. The Homestead quilt and craft store owners Avis Dieseth and her daughter-in-law Georgia, hosts of the course, wanted to start a quilting guild. They asked those taking the course to start one. And they did 30 years ago. Now the group, Heart in the Country Quilters, is celebrating. Guild members will make note of the special anniversary at the Fergus Falls Area Quilters’ Festival of Quilts show and conference March 21-23 at the Bigwood Event Center. Erlandson knows the story well, but she backs up her facts using a three-ring binder filled with correspondence and notes from the group’s meetings and events. “There were five of us who went to the YMCA one day, sitting on a park bench, trying to decide if it would work,” Erlandson said of the guild’s start. “Avis wanted the guild, so we started making phone calls. We each called two friends, and each of those friends called two more. We were loosely organized, but it was a start.” Their efforts led to success. Officially the guild, formed on Feb. 3, 1983, was known as Country Quilters. It was a popular group that quickly gained members. Besides Fergus Falls, other area quilters, joined including women from Battle Lake, Amor and Elbow Lake. Within its first six months, the membership grew to 28 members. By the end of June 1984, they had 40. At its height, the quilting guild had more than 90 members, she said. Today the group has around 40 quilters. The dues were more than reasonable at $5. There was no e-mail, but, as guild member Darlys Hess says, they used “c-mail.” In other words, they made phone calls. Using the same calling tree method when they formed the group, the women called one another about meetings. They gathered once a month and chose the third Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. as their gathering time. It took time to find a home for the group, however. First they met at the Riverbend Apartments, but they quickly outgrew the space as more women wanted to join, Erlandson said. They moved the meetings to the museum’s meeting room and outgrew that spot. Now they gather at Crossroads Baptist Church in Fergus Falls. Each member has a special story about her foray into quilting. Valjeanne Norris made her first quilt for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Each block noted a special event in their lives and was quite meaningful. She didn’t use quilting techniques to put it together, she said. Each panel was first cross-stitched and then tied. But, through quilting events and classes, she refined her skills. Some of the group’s members found the morning meetings a challenge with their work schedules and started an evening guild they simply named Evening Quilters. The group meets the first Monday of every month at 6:45 p.m. at the Mill Street Residence’s lower level. Gloria Ryan, of Fergus Falls, was part of the group. She got interested in quilting through a friend and “got hooked” after attending a trunk show. The event, popular with quilters, features a speaker who shows a variety of quilts while discussing the quilting techniques used. Lois Rogness, another Evening Quilters member, found the meeting time a good fit for her busy schedule at Lake Region Healthcare. She’s always enjoyed sewing and finds quilting relaxing. In fact, her husband knows when she needs to take time to quilt, she said. Some quilting groups gather to sew on their projects. At the guild meetings, members learn about quilting projects, patterns and techniques without working on their quilts. Some quilters belong to both groups, but each offers the same thing to the quilters — fellowship. “Quilters are so sharing,” said Erlandson. “We need to support each other. The fellowship is what we have in common. WE find a need to be together and to talk about quilting.” The two guilds — Heart in the Country and Evening Quilters — work together as the Fergus Falls Area Quilters to organize the biennial Festival of Quilts event. This marks the sixth year for the event, which is held every two years. At the event, quilters can attend a variety of workshops. They can design their own wool project or learn about different finishing techniques on quilts. Several programs are scheduled with guest speakers focusing on special projects. Hess is one of those speakers who’ll talk about the quilt retreats to Papua, New Guinea, she organizes. Another program event will focus on 12 quilters from the Fergus Falls area who are sewing swapping fabric postcards with 12 Swiss quilters. Quilts can be entered in a nonjudged show and take part in two silent auctions. Proceeds from the auctions will go toward the 4-H Learn to Quilt scholarships. The event is open to all quilters and takes place from 5-9 p.m. March 21; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 22; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 23. It offers a time to share and learn and, with Heart of the Country Quilters, a time to celebrate 30 years of quilting fellowship.

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