300 Words about Quilting: If I had a chance to do it over, I'd...

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Quilters Newsletter invites you to share your quilt stories with other QN readers in 300 words or less. If you have a quilt story that fits the topics listed, be it funny, sad, poignant or anything in between, we want to hear from you. Send your story, its title and your complete contact information to submissions@qnm.com. Put “300 Words” in the subject line.

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Connie Stegen, on behalf of Wilma M. Sulski

My mother passed away on April 5, 2012 at the age of 86. Both of us quilters, my mom and I have shared our thoughts about each issue of Quilters Newsletter for years. The essay below was found in her neat handwriting among her quilting supplies. I am guessing that it was written when she was in her 50s, with the intention of submitting it to QN. In her life, she produced a large number of beautiful quilts and quilted pieces, and some very complicated patterns—her mariner’s compass is gorgeous! However, she never owned a double wedding ring quilt. When I opened the April/May 2012 issue of QN to 300 Words about Quilting, I knew I had to submit her essay.


There were no quilts in my childhood. My mother, although she was involved with all other kinds of handwork and sewed all our clothes, did not quilt. However, I was more involved with quilting than I realized.

I made yo-yos—lots of yo-yos. I didn’t know what they were for, and my mother didn’t know, but it kept me quiet for hours and she had lots of scraps, and that was good enough for her. I wound up with a huge box of them, but by the time I found out what or how they were to be used, the box had disappeared.

I also embroidered quilt squares; although I didn’t know then that’s what they were. I loved to embroider, they were small simple Projects I could finish quickly, and they were cheap. Two for a nickel at the 5 & 10 cent store. And so by the time I married I had about 70-75 of them and I still didn’t know what they were used for. I finally used about a dozen of them to make a coverlet for my baby’s crib. The rest, you guessed it, disappeared.

My first and only childhood memory of a quilt was when I was about twelve. My girlfriend’s grandmother gave her a double wedding ring quilt that she had made. I was enthralled. I remember following the quilting with my fingers and all through the colored pieces joined together so neatly.

Well, many years have passed, busy with home and family, and I still don’t have a double wedding ring quilt because all instructions for it say “for experience quilters only.” Although I have made several crib quilts, pillows, wall hangings, and I have a scrap quilt in progress, my dream is still to own a double wedding ring quilt which I can brag about and say, “I made it myself.”



I came to the United States on January 9, 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II. I was just fourteen years old and I was on my way to stay with my mother’s family in upstate New York.

My knowledge of English was minimal, but I was enrolled in high school the following day and encouraged to do a lot of reading and to make use of my dictionary and thesaurus to get me up to speed. I was supplied with many books to read, and I made significant progress until I came to the word “quilt.” Neither family members nor the recommended reference books were of help. From the context I imagined that “quilting” was some kind of sewing, like embroidery. The thought of a quilting frame with friends sitting around it intrigued me, and I had a burning desire to learn how to quilt. Never mind that I had no idea what a quilt was. The urge to learn never quite left my mind.

Life went on…I graduated from high school, graduated from business school, graduated from college with a major in banking. I married and had three children, and when my youngest was in his last year of high school, I joined a rug hooking group. While that was okay, during one session I mentioned that I wished I could find someone to teach me how to quilt and one of the ladies told me about a quilting class that was just starting in a neighboring village. The rest is history. The teacher Josie McKinley became my best friend, and the hooked rug that I had just started was folded up and “finished” by the squirrels in my attic.

Quilting gave me opportunities I had never dreamed of. Inspired by Josie, I demonstrated quilting at craft fairs and museums. Many of my quilts were pictured in magazines and I was invited by area quilters to give trunk shows and lectures.

I made many quilts over the years. After I had made seven quilts in short order, Josie suggested that I keep a diary or record of all my quilts. If I had only listed to that suggestion, I would not find myself with 200 quilts that need to be documented.



If I had a chance to do it over, I’d have started quilting earlier.

My daughter, Diane Wold, is an expert quilter and is the author of Strip Quilting (Tab Books, 1987). I somehow had the idea that quilting was her territory so it was out of bounds for me.

I am now 86-years-old and have been quilting for 10 years. I live in a retirement community that has a sewing shop committee, which has a mission to mend and alter garments for other residents. The committee receives sewing notions and supplies from other residents who are downsizing. Ten years ago, we received two big boxes of small cotton pieces—solids of all colors of the rainbow and prints. It was like being given a palette! I had to do something with them.

Diane loaned me One-Of-A-Kind Quilts by Judy Hopkins (That Patchwork Place, 1989) to get me started. I love quilting. I have sewn all my life; my mother’s Singer was available for making doll clothes. Academically, I wavered between graphic art and math/science; the latter won out.

I often look for inspiration to the quilts made over the past 200 years. I never cease to be amazed at how, simply with geometric shapes and color, such beautiful creations can be made. I enjoy using traditional blocks in unusual ways.

I headed up a project creating flower wall hangings for North Carolina Botanical Garden’s new Education Center. The Garden has had a Wild Flower of the Year program more than 30 years and each year they choose a native wild flower to promote. A group of quilters made quilted wall hangings for each year’s flower. The Garden hangs six at a time in their Exhibit Hall, rotating them each quarter.



If I had a chance to do it over again, I would not change a thing. Several years ago I found a beautiful piece of blue, nursery print, toile fabric and decided to make a blue work quilt. I know, your mind races to red work, but I just had to use the blue and I had a plan.

I would make a quilt of hand-embroidered blocks and hand-pieced blocks for my 4-year-old granddaughter, Lanie, who was learning nursery rhymes in preschool. I found a nursery rhyme pattern at a quilt shop, embroidered them blue, then realized I was one block short for the quilt I wanted to make her. In the middle of this dilemma, Lanie came skipping into the house and recited the cutest rhyme. She had just learned it, something about an apple tree and shaking one apple down for her and one apple down for me. I loved it. I showed her the progress on her quilt and she was delighted.

All of a sudden I had an idea. Lanie and I were going to commemorate the day and create a special quilt block to remind us. So we sat on the bed and designed one. We decided the two apples in her hands would be red and her hair would be yellow/blond, just like hers in real life. Everything else would be blue.

She hounded me to get her quilt done, but many things drew me away. Finally, in December 2009, I completed the quilt. I didn’t tell anyone, and when she opened her Christmas gift, she was so happy to finally have her quilt. She is almost a teenager now, but still delights in her special quilt and I in her happiness.



A chance to do it over…hmmm. For me, this is more about quilting than about a specific quilt. Quilting as an interest, a hobby, a passion, a joy in my life. I began quilting slowly and tentatively 14 years ago and although I have learned a variety of techniques, explored different styles and completed many quilts, I feel I should be further along in terms of my skills and especially my creativity.

Why is this? Looking back, I realize that too often have I been unadventurous, more interested in simple success (meaning straight seams and sharp points, not that I am belittling them) and getting the job done, rather than an exceptional outcome. Even though I studied books, subscribed to stacks of magazines, and took workshops with brilliant teachers, I frequently held back in that oft-mentioned comfort zone, like staying at the shallow end of a swimming pool. Maybe I lacked confidence, thinking that others could do amazing things, but that I would have to be content with middle-of-the-road results. Perhaps it was my personality type or brain structure (that right side vs. left side stuff).

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m unhappy with what my years of quilting have brought me or with my accomplishments. Rather, it’s that I am now ready to really push myself to take a leap forward. If time travel were possible, I’d go back and urge myself to jump into the deep end of the quilting pool early on so that I might arrive at this point sooner. I’d tell myself, “Don’t play it so safe! Take a risk. Experiment. You’re a good swimmer. Jump into the deep end, the water’s fine. It’s where you belong, trust me!”



It began with quilt-as-you-go blocks historically significant to Pennsylvania. Many included leafy nature prints. All were constructed in an autumn palette. To this collection, my young niece and I added blocks of our own design. While the blocks looked good, one day I had to admit that the overall design just wasn’t working. It was time to stop and await inspiration.

The timeout ended with the impulse purchase of a gorgeous leafy print. When, without thinking, I unpacked my purchase close to the autumn “disappointment.” I caught a glimpse of the quilt and fabric working beautifully together. In that moment, the inspiration I had been awaiting came. I had stumbled onto a second chance. I could do it over.

I cut a large rectangle from the new fabric and bordered it, creating an Amish plain quilt background, normally made in solid colors, but not this time. I disassembled the “disappointment,” keeping all the hand-quilted blocks, arranging them on my design wall, cascading them downward on the background. After the final hand quilting, little buttons were scattered over the surface to represent twigs and clutter which come with falling leaves.

Links in the Continuum taught me the importance of taking time out to clear your head so you can take advantage of the inspirational moment when it occurs, and to let go of what is not working, thereby opening your mind to fresh ideas—ideas which create opportunity—opportunity in this case to do it over. And I did!



I have a quilt I started to make six years ago and am trying desperately to finish it, but I think the quilt gods are working against me. I have come to think of it as my mortal enemy. I have spent way too much time out of my life on it already. Everything that can go wrong, has and then some.

It has 36 of the same two-color, paper-pieced blocks. It was interesting when I did the first one or two, but after that I had to literally beat myself up to make the other 34.

Wanting to just be done with it, I cut a huge 8-inch border, called it good, and stuck  it in the drawer for a couple of years. Needing to have an entry in a quilt show made me dig it out of the drawer and take a look at it. I decided the border needed to be replaced with something more attractive. After using extra fabric for the border, I realized I didn’t have enough backing fabric.

So, like any good quilter, I added a couple strips down the center as though that is what I intended to do all along.

I didn’t have a clue how I was going to quilt it, so I enlisted a digital designer to create something for it. After the fourth version, I finally had a quilt pattern I could use. I was pretty proud of myself until I took it off my frame and realized I had quilted a couple pleats in the last border. Ugh! If I had to do it again, I would have never started this quilt, but now I view it as my personal nemesis that will be conquered!

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