Judging by the early history of the quilting women of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, of St. Cloud, who made about 10 quilts a year for many years, a person might think it safe to believe it would take a hundred years to make a thousand quilts.
These are the women of Bethlehem Lutheran who made 1,000 quilts in 2017. Photo by John Karlsted
That person would be wrong. On Nov. 13, 2017, the 30-or-so women finished cutting, adjusting, sewing, plus all the rest of the needed work, and put the final touches on finishing the one thousandth quilt–that’s 1,000–in 2017 alone, to celebrate the centennial of quilting at the church, which started in 1917.
Quilter Shirley Braun said when that thousandth one was finished, the group cheered. ‘Hallelujah!’ we said, and began taking pictures, and general rejoicing. The next day we threw a party.”
She added that it was a very festive time. “We had all kinds of appetizers, and 12 bottles of bubbly–not the real champagne because we were in church, but a sparkling nonalcoholic wine. It was a lot of fun.”
Quilt making began in 1917, when the early Bethlehem Lutheran Church was 9 years old. Now a century later, and in the third church since 1917, the quilters can look back to many changes that have come about to make their work easier and more successful. As it says in the history of the group, a book called Give a Quilt, Be a Comforter, about 10 women at first sat in folding chairs and worked on their laps, and on their knees, working one day a month.
After that, they were given a table–which was too low, and caused back problems, so they propped it up on cement blocks. But they scratched the floor, so they switched to propping it up with books.
When the new church was dedicated in 1996, quilters got an entire room to work in, with a set of closets to store all the donations.
The book Give a Quilt… said, “Fabrics good enough for tops and bottoms was squared off and taken home to be sewed. We still do that, but now have several sewing machines, so much can be done at church. For the middle layer seams in old nighties, sweaters, underwear, etc., were cut out so we had flat pieces to work with.
“The top, bottom, and fill is first tied together with yarn, the hem is then pinned, given to one of the women at the sewing machine, who will sew around the hem of the quilt, and then the quilt is finished.”
Quilter Cheryl Skalbeck said that in 2015 some quilters brought up the idea of making a goal of 1,000 quilts to celebrate a 100 years of quilting at Bethlehem. “That meant we had to alter our work habits,” she said. “We needed to add extra quilting days, as well as quilt longer on regular days. We also recruited others to help in the process.” Quilters regularly work every Monday and Tuesday morning, Mondays ripping hospital blankets, and Tuesdays, quilts are put together, and sewn.
A group of quilters from Minneapolis donated bags of fabric and came two days during summer months to help out.
Gerry Haug sews the finishing work. Photo by Bill Vossler
Besides all the volunteer work, a great deal of material, thread, and yarn is needed to make any number of quilts, much less a thousand. Quilter Gerry Haug said, “I am very thankful for the St. Cloud Hospital for supplying us with blankets for the fill in the quilts. We also get two to eight garbage bags of hospital gowns each week that we use for the tops and backs of our quilts. That is the only reason we were able to make a thousand quilts this year. We thank them when we go every Monday morning to get our supplies of blankets and gowns for our quilts.”
Additionally, the twice-yearly Bethlehem rummage sales donates materials. Sheets and drapes come from hotel renovations, as well as materials from home downsizing and estate items.
But they do more than quilts. In addition to working on quilting, the women help set up the Bethlehem rummage sales, and work them. They get food ready for funerals and/or clean up afterwards. They are also always ready to work if the church office needs help with a project and it is quilting day. Or one or some of the quilters will volunteer for a later nonquilting day.
The quilters also assemble health kits from items donated during Lent, and school kits in the fall from donations from the congregation.
Where Do The Quilts Go?
A view of the interior of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Cloud with many of the 1,000 quilts put out in November. Photo by John Karlsted
About 10 percent of the quilts each year go to local organizations or family, Shirley Braun said. “Last year when Place of Hope dedicated the Second floor to mothers and their children, we presented them with 20 quilts. This year we supplied a Habitat family with quilts and are giving 25 to Catholic Charities’ Share the Spirit. Some go to the Salvation Army, Anna Marie’s Alliance for battered women, and others. The remainder are taken to the Lutheran Relief Warehouse in St. Paul, where they fly to needy people across the world. A tracking slip is attached, so when quilts are distributed to other countries, the Bethlehem quilters are sent a report to where the quilts went.”
People are generally impressed with what the women do. The quilters get remarks like “You really made that many quilts?” or “You do this two mornings a week?” or “Where do you get all the fabric?” or “I can’t believe you do so many.”
Several of the quilters commented that the matriarch of the group, Shirley Younger, should be commended for being so involved with the group, getting others to join, (she said “We can still use more workers”) and keeping the group going at difficult times.
Of course, they continued to make more quilts, even after they reached their goal of 1,000. As quilter Deidra Anderson added, “It’s a wonderful mission. It also makes doing the project easier, working with others, and seeing the friendships with the ladies, and the joy of new ladies joining the group. Most people who hear about our quilting group think that they have to know how to sew, and that’s not true. All we say is, ‘If you can tie your shoes, you can join us.’”
Though some catchy names have been suggested for the group, they merely call themselves the Quilters. Because that’s what they do.
Cheryl Skalbeck, Gail Falconer, and Joan Bergo work on a quilt on a table. Photo by Bill Vossler
Joan Bergo said, “If not for Shirley Youngner’s invitation, I’d be without this reward for the past 10 years.”
Ann Jordet said she helps make quilts because “To make a quilt for someone that means warmth and comfort makes my heart feel good. We try to make them beautiful, but strong and serviceable. What I enjoy most is seeing the end product made from a bunch of scraps.”
Quilter Karen Knutson said she enjoys quilting for many reasons, but one is that “the quilters are usually happy with smiles all the time when they come.”
Judy Carlsted said her enjoyment comes from “satisfaction from recycling, to produce a useful, usually pretty, quilt. We jokingly said, ‘Some quilts are pretty…some are warm.’”
Genie Erickson added, “Being together with a great group of women who are caring and good listeners is what I enjoy. And of course seeing the finished quilts, and especially when all the quilts are put on the backs of the pews in church in November.”
Angie Tople said, “It all feels good. It’s fun times. We are able to give warmth to others, and make their life more comfortable. I enjoy the friendship of all the quilters. I love my quilting friends.”
Shirley Younger said, “What I enjoy most is the fellowship, although now I do most of the work at home, working alone. A few people think at 93 I’m too old and should take it easy,” she laughed.