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Church quilters with a cause

Kenmare Quilters Club
Kenmare quilters first row from left, Goldie Fjeld, Ilene Hoff and Margie Hansen. Back row from left: Barb Scherbenske, Santa Claus and Wanda Landers

Red-and-green quilts drape the walls of Nazareth Lutheran Church in Kenmare, hinting at the dozens of handmade treasures crafted every Monday afternoon throughout the year. Five women from the church continue to carry on a nearly 40-year tradition of sewing quilts for the less fortunate.

Despite moving to Minot two years ago, Wanda Landers still makes the roughly 100-mile round trip to Kenmare with fellow quilter Goldie Fjeld to return to their home church and serve alongside their friends.

“We look forward to meeting each Monday to see what’s going on and what we can do that day,” Landers said. “It’s just a very good fellowship for us.”

What’s going on is careful design by delicate, aging hands to piece together large quilts for World Relief, an organization providing humanitarian aid, disaster and emergency care around the globe. The women of Nazareth Lutheran Church began making quilts in 1976 to assist San Haven, a tuberculosis sanatorium near Dunseith. As the years went by, they expanded their reach to Minot’s Domestic Violence Crisis Center, the Red Cross and Kenmare’s community-wide “Gift of Love” project, which provides food and other gifts to the needy during Christmas.

“It’s a matter of making quilts and donating where they’re needed,” Landers says.

The church’s confirmation students are also given denim quilts at graduation and Landers says they are very appreciated by the young people. She hopes it may spur some interest for quilting from younger generations.  In the 1990s, the quilting group was larger and Landers remembers sending an average of 200 quilts a year to World Relief. Today, the five average about 50 a year, so they’re always open to more people looking to expand the effort.

“They don’t have to sew,” Landers says. “They can tie (the quilt ends) or lay out the squares.”

Landers says they plan to invite the confirmation students to learn how to make the quilts since the kids need to do a project for a charitable organization as part of their classes.

Even if the group attendance is low, the women of Nazareth Lutheran Church are certainly not alone in their quilting efforts to serve World Relief. Numerous churches throughout North Dakota have quilting groups and at a recent World Relief appreciation event in Minot, Landers said the crowd was so large that organizers struggled to make room for everyone.

And she notes that the Kenmare church and community assist in the efforts in other ways.

“We have gotten a good set of donations,” Landers says. “We’re getting new material, nice material. At one time, we tore apart clothes to get material.”

But nothing goes to waste because Landers says any scrap material is sewn together to make dog beds for the Humane Society.

Over the years, their church family built shelving to store quilts and materials, added leg extensions to the tables so the women don’t have to stoop over as they work, and others donated sewing machines.

“Everything is conveniently there. We don’t have to drag anything from home,” Landers said. “We have a nice storage space for everything.”

The women also sell some quilts to help purchase the batting. A manufacturer in Oakley, Minn., develops the 60- by 80-inch batting required for each World Relief quilt so it comes ready for assembly.


Adding a project

This year, the talented ladies began an additional project of sewing dresses from donated pillowcases.

“It seemed foolish to cut them up for quilts, so we began to make dresses,” Landers said. Most of those are handcrafted by 86-year-old Ilene Hoff. She’s sewn 135 so far, carefully selecting embellishments from a stash of donated lace and colorful rickrack. 

“It’s all my ideas how I decorate,” Hoff says. “It takes a lot of bias tape and elastic, but thankfully Wanda was a collector so she furnished all the bias tape.”

The pillowcase dresses are sewn for a relief organization called Little Dresses for Africa. Hoff says she can relate to the young children who have so little due to her own humble beginnings. Hoff remembers her mother adding some lace to flour sacks to create dresses for her and her sister.

“My folks didn’t have much, so for those who don’t have much, I think they’re really happy with the dresses,” she says.

Hoff admits sewing has been therapeutic for her over the years, particularly while mourning the loss of her daughter from a car accident. As a young mother, Hoff taught herself to sew from a purchased dress pattern until she eventually designed her own patterns to sew suits and dresses for her eight children. But her talent was already in her blood as her mother and two grandmothers were accomplished seamstresses, too.

“God gave me hands, so I use them,” she says. “It makes me feel good to sew and give.”

She says her children encourage her to keep sewing as long as she can, and she has every intention to do so.

 “This is my therapy,” she admits. “I’m happy that I can sew. That’s what gets me up in the morning.”

Much like the quilts they lovingly create, Monday afternoon gatherings have become woven into the fabric of the women’s lives.

“Now some of us are widows and there have been illnesses,” Landers says. “It’s been really a good support group. It’s become a part of me.”


Maxine Herr is a freelance writer from Bismarck.