Swede Ridge quilters enjoy fellowship, making a difference

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Eunice Carlson, Shirley Jensen, Jean Peterson, Olga Corlett, Lois Davis, Edith Nading, Dorothy Peterson and Helen Borcherding gather around one of the 114 quilts they made last year. (Submitted photo)

Cheryl Corlett hems the quilts once the other ladies tie and pin them. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Yvonna Redemske and Edith Nading show off the blocks tediously cut and pressed by fellow quilter Jean Peterson. Much of the material used for the quilts is donated. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

For several generations, the ladies of Swede Ridge Lutheran Church have quilted for a cause.

Every year, starting in October, the women get together each Wednesday to make quilts for Lutheran World Relief. They work through the month before taking a break for the holidays in November and December, then return to quilting in January, not stopping until the beginning of May, when the quilts make their way to Minneapolis. From there, quilts from all over the country are distributed to those in need around the world.

According to the Lutheran World Relief website, 408,245 quilts were distributed to 20 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central and South America in 2014. The Swede Ridge ladies created 114 quilts last year, many of which were part of that figure.

“Ninety-nine percent go overseas to be used for warmth, tents or carrying supplies,” said Shirley Jensen, who is part of the group along with Dorothy Peterson, Helen Borcherding, Olga Corlett, Lillian Thornton, Edith Nading, Yvonna Redemske, Cheryl Corlett, Eunice Carlson, Jean Peterson, Lois Davis, Joyce Novey and Severna Cowell.

Other quilts the ladies make are distributed locally to Shepherd of the Hills, fire victims or others in need. Several are auctioned off in the Mar-Mac Friends Helping Friends Winter Benefit and some go to graduating seniors.

The ladies said they don’t set a goal each year. They simply strive to make as many quilts as they can. Their record is 200. They’re currently at 30 full-size quilts and four baby quilts. Lillian was designated the resident baby quilt maker and has even been named volunteer of the year for making so many.

“It all starts with a block,” explained Cheryl of the quilt-making process.

Jean tediously cuts the blocks with help from a template created by her husband, Gary, then presses them. Ziploc bags full of pristine blocks in an array of colors and patterns are stored at Bob Eggen’s house in McGregor, where the ladies work during the winter when cold weather forces them from the church.

The material is largely donated, explained Edith, from local residents or the cap office in Prairie du Chien. Olga said one nice aspect of the quilts is that fabric, often part of someone’s memorable piece of clothing or a blanket, can be re-used to make a memory for someone new.

The quilt tops are then created and put together with the bottoms and all the ladies work as a group, tying and pinning before the quilt is hemmed by Cheryl.

The quilts are stored in boxes (three or four in each) donated by Kwik Star and stacked in a closet in Bob’s home until May, when he drives a truckload to Decorah. The quilts then make their way to Minneapolis in preparation for an overseas trip.

“They’re put in bales in Minneapolis,” explained Edith. “They’re really packed tight.”

Dorothy said Lutheran World Relief has a way to track the quilts, so the ladies could find out exactly where their handiwork went, but they’ve never followed through.

Aside from making a difference through their quilts, the ladies said the group has other benefits.

Dorothy, whose mother, Sofie Davis, was an integral part of the group, making tops for many years, said she likes unleashing her artistry through quilting.

“I get something out of the creativity, making the tops,” she said.

Everyone also enjoys the time they get to spend with one another.

“I enjoy the fellowship,” Edith said, a sentiment Cheryl echoed.

“When I moved out here 21 years ago, Olga got me going [to the group],” Shirley said. “I went to church Sunday and Wednesday I was in the group. I’ve enjoyed it ever since, even if I’m not a seamstress. I leave that to someone else.”

“My mom used to have this apartment,” Yvonna added, gesturing to the upstairs apartment of Bob’s home, where the ladies work. “It was something we could do together.”

Yvonna said she remembered coming to the quilt group when she wasn’t living in McGregor. The ladies took quilting seriously then, too.

“I did something I wasn’t supposed to do—I cut something off,” she reflected. “Someone said, ‘Oh no, the ladies won’t like that.’ I said I could just leave. They thought that was funny.”

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