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Stitching memories: Old quilt blocks become wall art

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LUX, ANNA M.
May 16, 2013

— Eileen Daniels taught middle school students to connect with their creativity in sewing classes for 30 years.

After retiring, she discovered her own wellspring of imagination.

Just look at her walls, her beds and inside her closets. Quilting shows up everywhere in Eileen's home in colorful fabric art, intricate designer pillows and wearable vests.

"I've become quite passionate about it," she said.

No wonder the Brodhead woman has been selected as the featured quilter in the Rock Valley Quilter's Guild show this weekend in Janesville. Area quilters will display their talents with more than 200 quilts at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Eileen is a familiar face in quilting circles. She speaks regularly to area quilter's guild meetings, where she eagerly promotes quilting for the pure joy of it.

In recent years, Eileen has created sentimental wall hangings with quilt blocks never made into quilts by her grandmother and great-grandmother. She combines the orphan blocks with lace, old fabrics and antique keys from the family farm. The result is framed art that tells a personal story.

"This has been my niche," she said.

Eileen grew up on the family farm, dating to 1885, in Harvard, Ill., where the fifth generation now works the land. She made her first quilt at 18 and credits her grandmother for the inspiration.

A few years ago, Eileen sewed a fancy coat made from pre-worn garments, including three pairs of woolen pants and two wool skirts. She needed special buttons for the second-time-around garment, and her husband, Ross, came to the rescue.

He handcrafted buttons from wood scraps on his lathe and discovered how much he enjoys making intricate patterns in wood. One button consists of 16 kinds of wood, all meticulously cut and glued together to make a design. Ross figures it takes anywhere from an hour to 24 hours to make one of his homemade buttons.

By the way, Eileen's coat took home a lot of prizes, including the Best of Show at the prestigious American Quilters Society show in Paducah, Ky., in 2010.

Both Eileen and Ross taught in Brodhead schools, and both retired in 2005. Eileen taught family and consumer education, while Ross taught industrial technology. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.

One of Eileen's quilts contains remnants of her teaching days. She saved the threads from hundreds of sewing projects, swept up by the custodian in her room for a year. She then used the threads and other items from the floor as background for a unique quilt.

Recently, Eileen has turned vintage hankies into outfits for dolls.

"I've downsized," she said. "I inherited so many hankies from my mom. I'm going to give the clothes to my grand nieces."

Eileen is an officer in the Rock Valley Quilter's Guild, which began in 1980 with a charter membership of 35. It now has 150 members. The primary goal of the group is to share quilting skills and to learn new techniques.

Eileen and Ross happily put many hours into their creative projects.

"It is a labor of love," Eileen said. "You can't ever put a price on it."

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.


 

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