Quilting is an art that involves patience, time and love, each quilt having it’s own meaning. The women of the Sunburst Lutheran Church started their quilting group approximately 40 years ago and the tradition has continued, with the group expanding to include women of all denominations, getting together on Monday afternoons during the months of January, February and March, to create masterpieces that are then given to those who need them.
National Quilting Day was Saturday, March 16, but it was on Monday, March 18, the ladies celebrated National Quilting Day together, with a great program arranged by Randi Samsal, coordinator of the group. Of course the afternoon also featured quilting, along with coffee, tea, snacks and delicious desserts.
“When the group first started they would put the quilts on the floor of the parish hall, crawled around them and tied the quilts,” explained quilter Mary Jane Alstad. “The quilts were then donated to Lutheran World Relief. Dottie Moss took over about 30 years ago and got other people going and in recent years it has expanded even more.”
Moss is credited with doing huge amounts of behind-the-scenes work and doing it for many years. Her mother was one of the original members of the group and she has continued the tradition.
Made up of mostly retired ladies, this fun group of girls, the youngest being about 70, look forward to their Monday afternoon get-togethers, where everyone has a job to do and all enjoy tea, out of Moss’ mother’s beautiful tea cups, and snacks before calling it quits for the day.
The group has donated a tremendous amount of quilts to charity, sending them to the Great Falls Rescue Mission, the Cameron Center in Great Falls, Family Promise in Great Falls, Grace Home in Great Falls, Florence Crittenton Home, Intermountain Home in Helena and Kalispell, Veterans Home in Columbia Falls, Infusion Center in Shelby, Hi-Line Help for Abused Spouses and Lutheran World Relief.
Not all the quilts created by the group leave the area, as the ladies generously give to any and all in the community who might need one.
“If people in our community need a quilt, we are thinking of them and we give them one. We just donate as needed, if someone has cancer or a crisis we give to them,” said Samsal. “We sell a few at the Harvest Dinner to help buy our supplies, the rest are donated where they are needed. This group is phenomenal.”
While supplies are needed, one supply is generously donated, that of fabric. Mary Jane Alstad shared the community has been great about donating fabric to the group, something the ladies are extremely grateful for. Before the fabric donations were coming in, the group originally used old clothing for fabric.
“There’s getting to be more and more fabric and we use every bit of it,” said Alstad. “The generosity of the community has been outstanding and we truly appreciate their donations.”
“Mary brings home totes of fabric,” added Samsal. “And just like rabbits it seems to multiply, just more and more.”
Different members of the group make the tops and backs throughout the year and during the three months the group meets the quilts get put together, averaging six or seven quilts completed per meeting. Everyone is involved in the process and there’s always a job for anybody wanting to join. For some it has become a tradition amongst the generations, as Dottie Moss’s mother, JoAnn Taft, was involved in the group and so was member Sharon Berthelote’s mother.
“It’s a generational thing for some,” said Samsal.
“It such a wonderful social thing and it makes your heart feel so good,” added Alstad. “We make these to help people, it may be the only warm thing they have.”
It was after Alstad’s first meeting that she brought home a bunch of fabric and made her first quilt top for the group, and she’s been at it ever since, creating 500 quilt tops and 100 baby quilts in just seven years!
“The first one was fun and I decided I wanted to do 500,” said Alstad. “I don’t know where 500 came from, but that’s what I chose. I took my last 50 in on the 18th and met my goal.”
Alstad converted a bedroom in her home into a sewing room, one that according to Samsal is “a work of art to just walk through.”
“It’s just very warm and comfortable,” said Alstad humbly. “There are pictures of my family up on the walls in there and my projects.”
When creating a quilt top, Alstad tries to incorporate two colors into each one, red for love and yellow for sunshine. Alstad has been known to “sneak” material in past her husband, John, who then sees the finished product when he comes in to help fold it.
“John helps haul the quilts out and asks where all the material came from,” chuckled Alstad. “We have a routine. When the quilt is finished I lay it out on the floor of my sewing room and our little dog, Laci, comes in and stretches out on it. That is her giving her approval. Once it has Laci’s approval, John and I fold it up and take it out.”
What’s even more amazing about Alstad’s 500 quilt tops is that she managed to not only make them in seven years, but the fact that she does not sew during the nicer months.
“Only on nasty days and in the early mornings,” she smiled.
The group still donates many of their creations to World Relief Quilts and shared their sincere appreciation and gratitude for Dwaine Irvin. The ladies shared that Irvin picks up the quilts and trucks them out to the World Relief Center in Minneapolis, for free.
“It didn’t happen like that before,” said Samsal. “It was very costly. This is a huge thing that they do for the charity and we cannot thank them enough.”
“We like to send locally best,” added Alstad. “If someone knows anyone who is in need, contact us at the Sunburst Lutheran Church.”
With only a few weeks remaining in the group’s meeting season, time is ticking as they finish up before the nicer weather moves in. But come January, the group will reconvene to share in lots of laughter, good times, tea and creating beautiful quilts for those who may need them.
“We encourage everyone who would like to join us to do so, anybody is welcome,” concluded Alstad. “There are things to do besides quilt, a lot of little jobs for people to do. Our motto is ‘Many hands, God’s work.’ It’s a fun group!”
One that will hopefully continue to thrive for years to come as they strive to share the gift of warmth and love, one quilt at a time.