Maple Grove Quilters Stitch Together Friendships

Between patchwork and patterns a group of women stitch together lasting friendships.
Bernice Musech, Erin Kennedy, Sandy Johnson and Tammie Hammerstad: four of Maple Grove's dedicated quilters.

If you ask a room of quilters why they enjoy quilting, you will get answers as varied as the patchwork in their hands. But if you ask the Maple Grove Quilters why they’ve stuck together for over 20 years, the answer is simple: friendship.

When Bernice Musech received a letter in the mail about forming a community quilters group, she never expected it would grow into the 40-woman-strong network of creative and innovative quilters it is today. As one of the original 15 who started meeting at the same time as the monthly city council meetings, she remembers those early days. “We just made small quilts, wall hangings and table runners,” she recalls. After moving meetings to local quilt shops and then finally to Grace Fellowship Church in Brooklyn Park, their numbers grew—and so did the scope of their projects.

Today the group meets once a month to share ideas, techniques and inspiration. Every member takes her turn leading the group in whatever way she’d like. Many give demonstrations in their specialty area, while others make it a workday. “It’s amazing what you do learn even when you think you know something; you always learn more,” Musech says. Every year the ladies take on one charity program, such as the Ronald McDonald House, Blair’s Tree of Hope or Quilts of Valor, where they pool their skills and create something beautiful to give back to the community. And come Christmas time, the quilters are known to celebrate with various secret Santa or round robin projects, which bring an element of surprise to their normal routine.

Retreats are a big part of the Maple Grove Quilters, and where quilting colleagues become friends. Despite the span of ages (mid-30s to mid-70s) everyone gets along. “It just amazes me,” Musech says. “They’re there for you, whether you have a quilting problem or a personal issue.”

Bernice Musech

Meet Bernice
It’s not surprising that Bernice Musech learned to embroider at the age of five, given the detailed nature of her quilting craft. With a mother into needlepoint, knitting, crocheting and rag rugs, Musech was a natural when it came to hand crafts. After her kids were grown and her husband was busy traveling for business, Musech turned to local craft classes to keep her hands and mind occupied. “The nights got to be long and I’m not a TV person,” she explains. A few years later, her son passed away and Musech found herself working through her grief as she sewed. “I have to say that quilting saved my life,” she says. “It is something that takes over for you and helps you get through, day after day, moment after moment, and produces something beautiful in the end.”

Specialty: Today Musech is known by her fellow quilters as one of the queens of appliqué, a technique that adds embellishments and detail to the top of a quilt. With appliqué the quilter has the freedom to cut and design how she wants, but it often requires fine detailed stitching and precision. Now that Musech is retired she enjoys quilting regularly. “If I don’t quilt at least a couple hours a day I go crazy,” she says. “It’s creative and just makes your juices flow.”

Favorite Quilt: The California king hand-pieced quilt she started before her son died and on which she worked for months afterwards. The border alone took 600 hours, “but it was a saving grace for me,” she says.

Favorite Quilting Tool: Wing Clipper

Erin Kennedy

Meet Erin
The day Erin Kennedy’s child came home from school with a math project involving quilting was the day her love of the craft was born. After helping her child with the project she decided to invest in a few classes to test her hand at quilting. And like that, she was hooked. Kennedy joined the Maple Grove Quilters in 1995, just a few years after it began, and has been a faithful member ever since—she also teaches at Four Seasons Quilts. She loves the creativity and the chance to exercise that half of her brain.

Specialty: Kennedy is known among the group for her good color sense and love for variety. “I love as many fabrics as one can possibly put in a quilt,” she says. “The more the better.”

Favorite Quilt: A wool appliqué quilt she designed herself. She had friends contribute small Dear Jane* blocks, which she then incorporated into her piece, along with wool appliquéd sheep.

Favorite Quilting Tool: Needle Threader

* Dear Jane blocks originate from a quilt made by Jane Stickle in Vermont during the Civil War that contained 169 4 ½-inch blocks and 56 triangles, all of which were pieced or appliquéd. The uniqueness of this quilt has inspired quilters all over the world to recreate it.

Tammie Hammerstad

Meet Tammie
Although Tammie Hammerstad spent much of her childhood sewing, painting and watching her mother and grandmother make quilts, it wasn’t until 2007 that she fully entered the quilting world. Having left her job, she was in search of something new to connect with, when her sister-in-law invited her to a quilt show. “I was just amazed at the new techniques that were out there, the fabrics, the machines; it was a whole new world,” recalls Hammerstad. “That was my therapy, exactly what I needed at that time.” She joined the group in 2009, invested in a 14-foot quilting machine, and officially opened her own business.

Specialty: With her computerized long-arm sewing machine, Hammerstad can do the final stage of quilting herself: when the pieced front layer, batting (filling) and backing are all stitched together, often with intricate patterns. Many quilters with regular-sized machines hire this job out, or they choose the tedious task of hand-stitching the entire thing. Hammerstad has a knack for selecting and designing the quilting to fit the style, fabrics and mood of the quilt so that it enhances the quilt rather than overpowering or competing with it. “The quilting should blend seamlessly into the quilt, adding movement and dimension,” she explains.

Favorite Quilt: A labyrinth quilt, made up of strategically placed black, white and gray pieces to create a 3D effect. The quilting on top accentuates the effect further.

Favorite Quilting Tool: Specialty Rulers

Sandy Johnson

Meet Sandy
Sandy Johnson remembers her childhood filled with walks to the fabric store, endless quilts made by grandma, and her own home-ec sewing projects. But it wasn’t until she was quarantined at home one winter with her sick daughter, who was recovering from surgery, that she started to quilt. “I had been enthralled by Amish quilts,” recalls Johnson, “and I thought, well I know how to do this.” So she hand-cut and hand-pieced her very first quilt, and made it through the winter. Johnson joined the Maple Grove Quilters three years ago and is continually fascinated by the diverse techniques and styles. “I just learn so much from these women and get inspired every time,” she says.

Specialty: “My style is traditional but I like batik fabric” (special hand-dyed fabric). She also enjoys learning about and working with Civil War fabrics, which are known for their gray and brown tones with tiny prints.

Favorite Quilt: The lonestar quilt she made when her daughter was recovering. After it’s finished, the red, black and white quilt will likely go to her daughter when she gets married.

Favorite Quilting Tool: Specialty Rulers

Find more information at the Maple Grove Quilters website. Watch for their biennial quilting fair in April of 2015.

Ready, Set, Quilt! Local quilting resources:
-    Four Seasons Quilts in Maple Grove
-    Millie P’s in Anoka
-    Quilted Treasures in Rogers
-    Tammie Hammerstad quilting