A look at
Minonk's past
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by Albin Johnson

I wonder how many of my peers when waking up in the morning ask themselves. "Wonder what I'll do today?" Since retiring several years ago, my life has slowly evolved into a "oh well!" syndrome. Twenty-six years of teaching classes of as many as 75 students had sent me into hibernation or my garage work shop. I avoided crowds and joyfully made sawdust. Soon I added leaded glasswork and restarted my watercolor and oil painting. By the time we moved a couple of years later, my kids were politely suggesting they had no room for more woodwork, or that the leaded glass didn't "work" with their new décor, or they wondered if I could just store my paintings at our house until they could find the proper wall space.

Soon, I began talking more to my wife Marilyn and listening too! I had always thought of her as a Trig. And Calculus fanatic whilst I embraced the Geometrical things. I was bored and found taking naps were a wonderful diversion. After resting one day, I heard a lot of talk and laughter coming from several women down stairs. I listened! This was no "hen party" as serious business was being hatched. Soon there were biweekly meetings. Curiosity reduced my napping and I peeked. The "girls" were planning a quilt, one that all could be a part of.

I decided I would pay more attention to what my wife had been doing these past few months. With new eyes and tuned ears, I discovered she had been working on quilts for quite awhile. There were several lying across chairs and beds, even one I had been using for my downstairs naps. In her special room I noticed several sewing machines and drawers and boxes filled with fabric. I had even heard strange words such as: churn dash, double wedding ring, lone star, Baltimore, Dresden plate and nine patch among others. I had assumed they were words she found on her crossword puzzles!

A new job I had inherited was answering the phone when she was gone. One day when it rang some one asked, "is your pretty wife, the QUILT LADY there?" OK, so I'm an introvert, but now my ears really began to perk up. During the next few months I was challenged into visiting a quilt store, a fabric store, and looking at pictures in a quilt magazine. On our next trip, we visited Amish enclaves and I do remember quilts but I was more interested in Shaker furniture and primitive art.

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On one visit, I was led yawningly into the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. I was treated to a humdrum "suite" of quilts showing haystacks which seemed to mimic Monet's humdrum paintings of seasonal haystacks. In another room was the juried exhibit. Well, OK, these were not your great grandmother's quilts. My eyes were opened to a world of "fabric art" that could stand up against modern artists such as Picasso, Klee, Miro, Mondrian and Warhol for composition, color and presentation. One notable quilt was a pictorial of old WW1 fighter planes that had been made by a "MAN"!!! These quilts were hand sewn, stitch by tiny stitch. Today you find most newer quilts are machine sewn, controversial to some quilters, but then many old master painters use photos, projectors and perspective grids to lay out their work.

I found this appreciation for quilts rather late in life. There is a lot of history of quilts dating back many years. I'll leave that for the experts to write about. I will also skip over all the wonderful geometric designs and relate my impressions of my wife and her quilter friends who designed and fabricated a "watercolor" quilt on the wall of our dining room. The theme contained a Christian Cross surrounded by a symbolic flame made from multicolored 2 inch pieces of fabric.

The recipe follows. First, a large 8' by 8' piece of white flannel was taped to the wall. Washable pens were used to divide the area into 8" squares. A few sketch lines were drawn to define the cross and flame. Next, vast quantities of "fat quarter" size pieces of fabric were presented for viewing and when deemed useable, were cut carefully into 2" squares. They used a special rotary cutter and self-healing cutting board. After several meetings, the stacks of squares were sorted and placed in, what else?, pizza boxes, by color, hue and pattern. I now had a new understanding of "working together". They pondered, studied, placed, replaced and sought approval for their choices of these tiny blocks. When all had left for the day, I would stand and marvel how the design progressed from all directions. Each week brought more fabric and more substance to the layout. The flannel grid miraculously held the cloth squares like a magnet without pinning. This permitted easy changes of which not all agreed, but few harsh words were heard. I still kept a low profile.

Several weeks later, the consensus of the group, as well as my wife, said it was ready to be attached together. The 8" blocks of 16 pieces were coded with stickers, removed and sewn together by machine and pinned back in place on the flannel.

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Next the blocks were sewn into rows and re-sewn into the completed "top". I suggested I become the cameraman so they now let me hang around. I must confess I did hear an occasional "damn" when a block was sewn wrong. Once completed, the top was placed on a large piece of soft batting and safety pins were used to hold it in place. Spoons are used to facilitate the pinning. Finally, a border was added and the machine quilting using a "free form motion" was applied in random fashion to help define the shapes.

I have included some quilt pictures, one is a duplicate of the quilt described in this story and which now hangs in the narthex of San Juan Capistrano Presbyterian Church for all to admire.

Anniversary quilt by Albin Johnson

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American Gothic quilt by Albin Johnson

Marilyn's cross quilt by Marilyn Johnson