Handmade: St. Michael Quilters has international reach

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Carol Harper thinks "everyone deserves something pretty." 

As a longtime member and leader of the St. Michael Quilters, Harper, and 10 other sewing enthusiasts are doing their share to provide colorful hand-tied quilts to persons in need in other countries, including Thailand and Tanzania.

The group meets every Tuesday morning for two hours at St. Michael Lutheran Church and School, 3003 Hannan in Wayne, where they combine their skills to produce more than 150 quilts a year, sometimes as many as 200.

Among St. Michael Quilters are, from left, Judy Morris, Sherry Lee and Elise Locke.

The quilts are made with 100 percent cotton, sometimes wool and non-stretch denim. "Most of our material is donated," said Harper. "People find out about us and bring things in. People don't sew as much anymore, or sometimes someone dies, and they (family members) find out we quilt and bring the material into the church."

Their quilts are made with a machine stitched top and hand-tied, a "quilting" method used to secure the three layers (batting sandwiched between two layers of fabric) together, using a heavy thread or yarn. The knots are visible, adding to the beauty, texture and design of the quilts, sometimes referred to as "tied bed covers."

The finished quilts measure approximately 60-by-80 inches. "The size is like twin bed size," said Harper. "We have a couple ladies who cut and sew the quilt tops at home on their sewing machine. Normally, we purchase the backings, but if we get large donated pieces of fabric, we make the backings from those pieces, also. We have a big quilting block, and we pin on the backing. Then we lay on the batting, put the top on and pin it again to get it tight. We normally use yarn for the tying. The yarn is usually donated, as well." Members bind/finish the quilts on their sewing machine at home.

Harper, who's been quilting with the group about 18 years, said St. Michael's has had a quilting group for a little over 30 years, but their work recently gained more attention from its members when they displayed the quilts draped over pews. That resulted in a couple more people joining the effort and more fabric donations.

"We started putting them out in the church and other members started noticing them," she said. "They're put out usually on a Sunday in early October, which is Lutheran Women's Missionary League Sunday. (Also), there's a train that comes into Detroit once a year. Lutheran World Relief brings the train into town to pick up all the quilts in the state of Michigan. There are a lot of Lutheran churches here that do this.

Founded in 1945, Lutheran World Relief is an international organization geared toward assisting with disaster relief and recovery efforts with donated quilts and various care kits to persons in need.

Harper said, "We package the quilts and label them 'mission quilts,' and we take them to the local Lutheran High School and they transport them to the train. That's how it works for us (her church)." 

In addition to Harper, the other St. Michael Quilters are Cindy Chen, Joan Ollinger, Elise Locke and Betty Woehike, all of Canton; Lois Lauffer, Northville; Sherry Lee, Sandy Newton, and Pat Wyniarsky of Westland; Pat Nicolai, Wayne; and Judy Morris, Belleville.

All the members are retired from a "gamut" of careers. "We have a retired doctor, principal, secretaries, an organist, teachers (etc.)," said Harper, a retired school secretary. And, they range in age from roughly 64-83, with Harper being the oldest among them.

Harper said they're always looking for others who want to join the St. Michael Quilters." Anyone who wants to can help," she said. "You just need to know how to thread a needle to tie the quilt, and as long as you can do that and get it through the three layers (of fabric), we have all the supplies." 

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact St. Michael Lutheran Church and School (3003 Hannan, Wayne) at (734) 728-1950.