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Forty years of quilting, fellowship and fun

By Carol Stender

The Heart of the Country Quilters group posed for a photo at a recent gathering. The group is celebrating 40 years, making it one of the longer running quilting groups in the area. Photo by Carol Stender

Heart of the Country Quilters brought warmth to a wintry day this past winter as the group celebrated its 40th anniversary. Each member brought a quilt - either one they’d made or a quilt that had been gifted to them - to the event at Grace United Methodist Church in Fergus Falls.

One by one, the members talked about their quilts as guild president Janet Simpson helped unfold and display them to everyone. Each quilt had its own special story.

Kris Kreuger of Dalton, Heart of the Country member for three years, didn’t make the quilt she brought, but it holds a special place in her heart. She moved to Minnesota with her husband when the two retired. They had been living in Nevada where Kris had also been a member of a quilting group for 15 years.

Heart of the Country Quilters came together for their 40th anniversary recently. The members brought in a quilt they had made or a quilt they had received to show to the other quilters. Photo by Carol Stender

Before the two moved, several women from her church gifted her the quilt with its dragonfly pattern.

“They knew I liked dragonflies,” she said.

Mary Beth Hruby’s quilt was part of an exhibition of quilts that traveled throughout the U.S. in 2002, she said. The quilts that were honored to be part of the exhibition were each featured in a calendar. Hers was pictured in February of that year.

Darlys Hess brought a quilt made of wool pieces. When her husband’s grandmother died, Darlys stored the woman’s wool quilting pieces. Her mother took those squares and made a quilt. It was heavy, she said.

There were quilts with “improved nine- patch” designs and others made from a McCalls pattern. Some were re-sewn after years of love and use.

Some quilts were still in progress while others were almost a century old.

“We have seen some amazing work,” said Janet.

The day also presented opportunity. One member showed quilting squares she’d discovered at a local thrift shop. Each square had the embroidered outline of a state. No one knew where the squares originated or how old it was, but it was a project the Heart of the Country Quilters embraced. The group has since worked together to sew the squares together and has made the quilt to be raffled.

Quilt raffles are part of the group’s heritage. A raffle quilt was made every year from 1984 to 1994, when the project became bi-annual. Funds raised through the many quilt raffles have been donated to the Matthew House, Recovery House, Welcome House, the Salvation Army food shelf and Dakota Boys and Girls Group Home. Other recipients of the group’s donations have been Health Resources, Lake Region Hospital Pediatrics and sheriff and fire departments in the area.

The Luther Crest Bible Camp Quilt Auction is an event many quilting groups look forward to donating their time and talents, and Heart of the Country Quilters is no exception. But guild member Kathy Evenson recalled one woman’s comment that spurred the group into action. Group members joined other quilters for an outing when one lady approached her on the bus. The lady commented how Kathy’s quilting group had garnered just $25 in donations for the quilt made for the auction. Those words became a challenge for Kathy that the group make a quilt that could raise more money. And they have.

Every quilt is different, and this quilt is definitely one of a kind.

The quilts and the work displayed are an extension of the camaraderie of the quilters.

“It’s a fellowship,” said Kathy. “No matter where you are going, you find another quilter and a quilting group.”

That shared interest in quilting is the foundation of the group which formed on Feb. 3, 1983 by group of women. They formed a steering committee - Sylvia Christenson, Janis Erlandson, Barb Hexum, Renee Korda and Alice Rufer - to establish the group.

The guild grew quickly. Within six months it had grown to 28 members. Heart of the Country Quilters, at its height, had around 90 members, said member Shirley Jandt. Today around 30 to 40 members gather to share ideas, new techniques and to make quilts.

In its first year, the group gave quilting demonstrations at the Otter Tail County Fair and hosted national quilting lecturer, Mary Cross. In 1990, the group also hosted the Minnesota Quilt Discovery Day, and documented more than 75 quilts for the Minnesota quilt project.

Kathy joined the guild in its second year following encouragement from the group’s first president, Janis Erlandson. Janis and Kathy lived in the same rural Fergus Falls neighborhood. They met often to talk, play a game of pinochle and have coffee.

“Then Janis told me about the quilting group,” Kathy said. “Janis said, ‘You should join. We really need something like this in town.’”

Kathy Evenson joined the Heart of the Country Quilters 39 years ago. Her friend and the group’s first president Janis Erlandson, encouraged her to attend a meeting. Kathy hadn’t quilted before, but with encouragement from the group, she learned new skills and now makes about five quilts a year. She’s made around 200 large quilts since she started the craft. Photos by Carol Stender

Kathy had never quilted, but she was adept at crafting and liked to crochet. She learned about quilting from the guild’s members and through quilting workshops.

“In the beginning I made quilts for friends and family when we’d just married,” she said. She estimates she’s made around 200 big quilts over the years plus table runners and hanging quilts. She now makes about five quilts a year.

Kathy displayed a bird-patterned quilt at the 40th anniversary celebration. It’s quite different from her first lone star quilt she attempted in the mid-1970s, she said.

Through group activities, the members learn from one another and challenge each other, she said.

“You never really learn it all,” Kathy said. “There is always something to learn.”

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