MISSION HILL — Warmth and comfort come in many forms at Mission Hill's Vangen Lutheran Church, but the quilting group that meets every Wednesday morning is providing at least 400 serviceable, durable quilts that bring long-lasting relief from cold temperatures, as well as a message of care and consideration.
"We don't piece them, so they're not fancy, but they're warm and we make them to last as long as possible," Nancy Nelson, the group's coordinator said.
Lutheran World Relief was the recipient of the quilts for many years, but when economic conditions intensified local needs in recent years, the women decided to distribute some of their quilts to regional organizations.
Yankton's Contact Center and Women's Shelter will receive some of the quilts. Outlaw Ranch, a Lutheran youth camp in Custer, and some teen and pre-teen organizations will also receive some of the quilts.
"Pine Ridge has requested that we send them quilts this year, too," Kitty Bormann said. "We sent some to Cedar Rapids last year for flood victims and took some to an unwed mothers' center in Sioux Falls, too."
In years past, Lillian Olson recalled that church women brought their lunch and spent the entire day sewing quilts. As the number of farmers declined and more women joined the workforce, the quilting process evolved along with the culture.
"We have as many as 12 women who come to help," Ruth Gustad said. "Not everyone can be here every Wednesday. We take some time off for holidays. When the weather is bad we're not able to gather."
Three different sizes of quilts come out of the group's labor. The largest quilts are 60 by 80 inches. Youth camps need twin-sized quilts, and the group also makes baby quilts.
"The baby quilts are sold at our ice cream social," Jean Knutson said. "We usually have about 20 baby quilts and some larger quilts to sell at our silent auction. That money goes back into our quilting fund to purchase materials or whatever we need to make the quilts."
While a significant amount of quilting materials are donated, the group also purchases material at rummage sales and watches for bargains in the stores.
"LaRue Hanson and his wife come back from Colorado to visit family, and they often bring us a large box of material," Gustad said. "The people who donate the materials don't know us, but they're really good to help us out."
While washable materials are preferable, the ladies don't turn down any type of donation and are adept at making use of many different types of material.
"We received some living room drapes that had backing and lining in addition to the drape material," Highland said. "We were able to make six quilts out of that."
Backing is generally made of sheets or flannel materials. Blankets that are worn are inserted between the quilt top and backing. Used blankets in good shape are distributed just as they are.
Sheets are always needed, the women said. The corners of fitted sheets are dismantled and made to lay flat. A piece of material is sown into the corner so they can be used as a backing.
Yardsticks are plentiful at the work tables and the women are careful to keep track of their tools as they finish quilts and prepare them for packing.
"We use pliers to pull the needles through when we're tying," Sharon Freng said. "Somehow my pliers — that had my name on them — got caught up in a quilt and was shipped in one of the boxes. Someone received more than they expected when they got the quilt."
Some of the women complete quilting chores at home if there isn't enough time to finish the task at church. Because they also make layettes that contain flannel diapers, much of the work of making the diapers is done at home.
"Gloria does a lot of that at home," Carol Broderson said.
Gloria Brandon also noted that Broderson found a way to make use of the yarn the women no longer use to tie quilts.
"They asked us to use crochet thread," Broderson said. "It lasts longer. In places like Africa, they're washing the quilts in the river, and the yarn frays and doesn't wear as well as the thread. I've made 81 baby sweaters from the yarn."
Banana boxes serve as sturdy packing boxes, and the women are thankful that they have a church member with access to the empty boxes. Creativity and inventiveness have helped make the work easier through the years. PVC pipe that extends the legs of tables in the fellowship hall and women who are willing to offer their skills wherever needed make the work flow smoothly.
"They don't waste any time here, though," Olson said. "When my daughter came from Colorado to visit, we told her she should stay and help. She said we work too hard at this. These women are eager beavers on the job. They get a lot done."
Carol Swanson, who lives a block from the church but isn't a member, joins the group each week for a number of reasons. The social aspect of the morning and the idea of using time constructively appeals to all the women.
"It was a good way for me to get acquainted when we moved to town," Swanson said.
Bormann enjoys the sense of reward from her work and Nelson appreciates the fact that the group is able to "make something out of nothing."
Each September, the women bring a sampling of the quilts into the church sanctuary so the congregation can see what they've done through the year. Their hope is that the tradition will continue far into the future.
"You never know," Gustad said. "We hope our younger members notice what's done and have a desire to continue making the quilts. They're draped over the pews and dedicated before they're sent out, so it's a nice way to help people see what's been done."
At least 14 women regularly assist with quilt-making. They include Gustad, Knutson, Broderson, Brandon, Olson, Highland, Freng, Nelson, Swanson, Karen Lindgren, Helen Severson, Ruby Cutts and Dorothy Holman.
The women are happy to have new members join their group, and church membership isn't a requirement.
"If someone wants to come and help, they're more than welcome," Nelson said.