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Handmade: Self-taught quilter creates by hand, machine

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Marge Kleiner had always devoted her leisure time to knitting, crocheting and cross-stitching, but learning to quilt had been something she’d wanted to do for a long time. So, around 2001, she picked up books and magazines on the subject and took matters into her own creative hands, teaching herself the age-old art and becoming skilled at two different techniques – quilting by hand and with a sewing machine.

“My first project was by hand, then I went to the sewing machine right after I finished that project. But English paper-piecing, which is all hand-piecing, is my favorite way to do it because it’s relaxing, and I can do it while watching TV with my husband (David). It’s also easy to carry with me,” explains Kleiner, who lives in Howell Township.

She enjoys shopping for fabric at quilt shops everywhere. “We’ve got three relatively close to here, and when we’re traveling, I’ll stop in a quilt shop to see what they have,” she says, admitting she prefers fabric at specialty shops over what’s being sold at fabric store chains. She says she feels “more sure of the quality at quilt shops.”

Kleiner quilts daily, and, says, “According to my husband, ‘that’s all’ I do.” Her quilting inspiration often stems from falling in love with a particular fabric, which then leads her on a hunt to find the perfect pattern to showcase the print. But when she’s not using a pattern, she designs most of her own quilts. “I have a computer program that lets me design,” she says.

Themes for her quilts vary, depending on her inspiration. “For my hand-piecing, right now, I’m working on a round the world and a bargello pattern, and then I saw a pattern online for a Super Mario with different characters from the game,” she remarks.

Kleiner, 72, uses all cotton fabric, including a lot of batiks, for piecing and she prefers cotton batting for the quilting process because “it’s warmer, and it just has a better feel to it.” And, although it’s a bit more expensive, “it’s worth it,” she says.

A member of the Howell Melon Patchers for the past four years, now serving as treasurer, Kleiner uses the quilting skills of some of the ladies in the group for her smaller quilts, but she has to find “outside sources, like the Stitchery in Howell,” for larger pieces.

She once hand-pieced a quilt, consisting of 12,877 pieces (Wow!). “It took about 15 months to make,” she says, “but I was working on other things at the same time. When my one granddaughter found out about it, she told me I was crazy, so I named it ‘Crazy Grandma Quilt.’” It earned her a couple Best of Show awards, one at the Fowerville Fair, and another at a quilt show in Byron.

She thinks hand-piecing may be making a comeback among quilters. “I’m seeing ideas for it online, but it takes a certain amount of patience (I’ll say!). Some people like to get things done a lot faster,” says Kleiner, who once taught a paper-piecing class and did a couple demos for her quilt guild.

She has yet to sell her quilts or patterns. In the meantime, she continues to quilt for herself, family members and the charities her guild donates to. She describes her quilts as “very usable,” and has about five displayed throughout her home, including one she uses on her bed “as a nice reminder” of her late mother-in-law, whom she made the quilt for.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or

Contact Marge Kleiner at