Whether I picked it up at home or school (probably both), I could sew with basic skills as a teen. In high school I started making scrunchies (hello, it was the 90s) and it became an annual tradition for a few years when I would make a large batch of the same fabric/design and gift that to as many friends as possible for that Christmas. I also made pillows both for myself and for my friends over the years, including large oversized ones for several of my closest guy friends when we graduated from YHS. It wasn’t until college that I upped my game and took my needle and thread skills to the whole next level by learning how to quilt during Interterm one January.
Called J-Term at some institutions, Doane used Interterm to describe the one-month hyper-focused classes you could take for 2.5 weeks prior to the start of second semester. These were often fun or kooky classes that still counted for credits but were a nice way to ease back into the college grind after the winter break. My sophomore year was when I decided, Lord only knows why, to sign up for Introduction to Quilting. Had I known how much work went into making a full-sized quilt in less than three weeks, I might have said pass; but as it was, I spent all day every day (most Interterm classes were just morning or just afternoon) getting it done.
From start to finish, I used every minute of those three weeks (no kidding; one weekend I actually hauled the quilt frame to my dorm room so I could keep working on it there) to make my very first quilt – a Christmas colored Log Cabin design that I picked out with my mom’s help prior to the start of class. If you look at it closely, you can see that the stitching is terribly uneven but I pieced that entire top and then hand quilted the entire thing. In. Three. Weeks! By. My. Self! I’m insanely proud of it but have kept it hidden from the children all these years because I don’t want them to test the quality of the quilt (i.e. I don’t want anyone to break it!).
Beyond the beauty of completing my very own project, that class opened me up to some other beautiful connections in my life, too. For one, it gave me another activity I could do with my Grandma Gert, a long time crochet fiend and hand-quilter herself, who was then on a quest to make quilts for all of her grandchildren by the time they graduated high school. When I was back from college that summer, I helped her between my busy social and part-time job schedules to complete the top stitching on my cousin Ashley’s quilt that she had already pieced together on her own. We spent plenty of hours at her quilt frame that was set up in my grandparent’s bedroom, talking and probably swearing from time to time when we inevitably pricked our fingers, even when using thimbles and finger guards. I didn’t get to help Gertie with all of her graduation projects but that time together holds a precious place in my heart and I am thankful the class provided me with that.
Also special from that class was the teacher herself, Kay Hegler, who was then a faculty member of the Education Department at Doane and, obviously, an avid quilter. Kay and I learned that we had Yankton/SoDak connections and she was in general a delightful human being who also turned out to be a generous one, as she let me rent a room in her house during my Junior year when I had nowhere else to stay. The first half of Junior year was my travel abroad to Africa but we had no guarantee of a spot on our residential campus upon return, so several of us were granted special permission to live off-campus and it just so happened that Kay had a room for me. Ever since then we’ve kept in touch through Christmas letters, social media, and the practice of yoga, which we both became big fans and teachers of in later years. Any time I bump into Kay when I’m back in Eastern Nebraska is a special moment with a great hug attached to it as she wraps me up just like the quilts she taught me to make.
I haven’t tackled a quilt project since becoming a wife or a mom but perhaps it will be something that I revisit with age (and maybe more free-time?!) later in life. Either way, I’m thrilled that I took the time and effort to learn this skill when I did as it is one that has returned greatly on its investment.
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