A patchwork of 18 local quilters were honored for their artistic talents Thursday in a recognition ceremony during the 55th annual meeting of Senior Citizens of Marion County held at Marion Senior Center.
A general sense of humble acceptance and accomplishment prevailed over the group as they accepted awards and absorbed applause.
Mother and daughter
In 1985, Hillsboro resident Helen Fenstermacher finished a polyester double-knit quilt for her mother whose eyesight was failing.
“The ‘Around the World’ pattern was nothing unusual for the time but the polyester was different because most people used cotton,” Fenstermacher said. “Then I took some time off of quilting to take care of my family.”
However, she didn’t truly get into quilting until 1987 when she began making “Sun Bonnet Sue” and “Farmer Boy” quilts for her grandchildren, after her daughter and fellow honoree, Barbara Villanueva took up their family’s time-honored tradition.
“We come from a legacy of quilters,” Villanueva said. “Mom really started after I did, but has far surpassed me since then.”
Around that time, Fenstermacher also inherited a plethora of women’s handkerchiefs from an aunt.
“I wondered what I was going to do with all the hankies,” she said. “Then, when I was looking at some quilting books I notice patterns that used handkerchiefs, and thought ‘I can make quilts out of these.’”
She began sowing hankies into block patterns and experimenting by folding them into butterfly shapes and other designs, she wanted to try.
“She’s kind of known for using hankies in her quilts,” Villanueva said. “It got to the point where people would just give her them. At one point mom had over 400 hankies.”
Now, at 91, Fenstermacher said she likes taking old fabric articles like hankies and T-shirts and turning them into something new and beautiful.
Having made hundreds of various quilt items from bed quilts to wall hangings to placemats, Fenstermacher called quilting a good hobby.
“I’m happy to not just be sitting around in a rocking chair,” she said. “Quilts are something I can share and pass on to loved ones on birthdays and anniversaries.”
At 61, Villanueva has made more than 83 quilt items from bed quilts to wall hangings, to tree skirts and table runners. She also made a special quilt for a dance studio in Las Vegas before she moved to Hillsboro. Over the years, quilting has taken on a different meaning for her.
“My kids are all grown now, but when they were little it used to drive me crazy to listen to them read,” Villanueva said. “I guess I took up quilting then as a way to help keep my sanity while they were learning to read.
“Now, I like seeing colors come together once quilts are done and quilting has becoming something mom and I can enjoy together.
“Our quilting has really evolved. Mom’s eyes are going now, but she can still do piecing and the finish handwork and she can still thread a needle, which is a big thing at her age.”
The mother-daughter duo pieced a quilt baring a variation of a Dresden heart design that sold for $6,750 at a Mennonite Central Committee relief sale earlier this year.
Marion quilter Leona Manhart but taught herself to quilt in a piecemeal fashion after she retired in 1987.
“I picked up it up here and there,” Manhart said. “It takes time to learn.”
She learned from books, family, friends, and television shows. She also took painting classes where she learned color theory.
“I think stuck with it because I love doing it,” Manhart said. “When I’m quilting I get so involved in the detail work, my stitches are small and even, it’s kind of like therapy, I guess, but it’s just fun, too.”
Manhart was part of the Holy Family Parish quilters in Marion for over 10 years. Now at 91, she has scaled back.
“I’ve never counted, but I’m sure I’ve made hundreds of things from blocks, to quilts to wall-hangings,” she said. “I’ve sold some, but the ones that I like real well, I give to my children, grandkids, and great-grandkids because I’m proud of my work and I want them to stay in the family. I don’t even try to sell them anymore.”
Rita Brunner started quilting about 12 years ago as a way to spend quality time with two of her sisters on the weekends. Having learned much of her craft from her sisters, she continues to quilt out of love for the craft and adoration for her family.
“I put a lot of feeling into it,” Brunner said. “I try to make each quilt especially for the person. I made a hunting quilt for my son who likes to hunt and a firefighter quilt for my son who is on the volunteer fire department because those are things they care about.”
She’s pieced 30 quilts while also holding down a job as a licensed daycare provider in Tampa.
“Once you start making quilts for your kids and grandkids you can’t just stop,” Brunner said. “Everybody needs one. It’s a fun challenge.”
Every time she makes a quilt she said she has to find the just the right materials.
Brunner also makes a quilt for each baby at her day care.
“In the last few years I’ve started to make the ragged flannel baby quilts,” she said. “Each one is completely different. I make them as something special to give to them so they can keep and cherish after they’ve gone on from my daycare. So they might have a little remembrance of me.”
She prefers to give quilts to loved ones and people she knows rather than trying to sell them because she puts a lot of time and effort into each one.
“A lot of you goes into each quilt,” Brunner said. “I guess it’s hard to give them away unless you know where they are going to go.”