The Journey of Ten Quilting Stencils


My family will tell you the last thing I need in my house is more Needleart Guild quilting stencils. When you consider there were over 700 designs when manufacturing stopped and I have at least one of each design you can understand why I had no business buying 10 of them on ebay to add to the collection. This group of ten tugged at my heartstrings and I knew they had to come back to home.

They're not pretty. They are in fact, well used, stained and in kind of rough shape. They have the old blue, gummed labels we used in the late 1970's and early 80's. 

In the back room at the Needleart Guild, there was a big glass dish filled with water on the work table with a funky old sponge in it. As you pulled a customer's order those blue, gummed labels were moistened and put on each tuffboard stencil.  The designs in this group are some of the earliest of the stencils we manufactured with numbers  59, 86, 75, 92, 94, 106, 152,  175, 176,  188. From the 1930's until the late 70's there were only 120 designs with 119 of them available. Stencil #62 wasn't sold but included as a sample when you requested a mail order catalog. Over the next 20 years we'd add 600 designs! That was accomplished by asking permission to sell custom designs made for customers and with designs I drew by hand or traced from antique quilts. 

Some of these stencils also had a sticker from Culpepper's Quilts in East Lansing. It was a quilt shop owned by Pepper Cory.  Many times she would come to our house on Oakwood Ave NE in Grand Rapids, MI to pick up quilting stencils for the shop. My Dad thought the world of her, an enterprising young lady running her own business.

Based on the age of the stencils, I was most likely the one who made them. I learned to run the stencil cutting machine when I was 12 or 13.  Every day after school my Dad drove me to the home of Esther Mish who had worked for my Dad at Fabric Specialties sewing and cutting quilt stencils. She continued to cut stencils for Needleart Guild on one of the stencil cutting machine in the basement of her home after my Dad shuttered Fabric Specialties. She taught me how to operate the machine and I gradually took over that responsibility. I might see if one of those machines is still around. It would be nice to have one in my own basement! 

I started working full time at the Needleart Guild in 1976 so chances are I made those stencils. My Dad and I were the only ones making stencils until we went with the computerized system in the 1980's and then........... it was mostly us again. I digitized them into the computer system and we both ran the cutting machine. The computer guided cutting machine cut the new see thru plastic stencils and the old, hand guided machine was still used for cutting the original tuffboard stencils.

There was one more sticker on one of the stencils. It was for Edith A Koch. In the 1970's and 80's lots of hand quilting was taking place and stencils were shared among friends. I'm guessing Edith put an address label on this one so it wouldn't get mixed up with someone else's. This particular stencil is the corner for a cable border design. I wonder what happened to the border stencil? 

I couldn't resist heading to the internet to see if I could find Edith. Bless her heart, Edith Ann Koch passed away at the age of 93 on Christmas Eve of last year.  Because her name was on a stencil I assumed Edith was a quilter. Assuming things can sometimes get you into trouble but her obituary proved she was not only a quilter but a "master quilter".  My guess is Edith would have been in her late 50's when she acquired those stencils.  I had to know more...............

Edith lived in Oakland Township, MI. Her home was sold in April of this year.  I asked the ebay seller I purchased the stencils from how they came to be in her possession and was told she purchased them at an estate sale of Edith's things.

Can you imagine the view Edith had? There are windows across the entire back of the house. It would be so wonderful so sit for hours hand quilting as you enjoyed the view.  The property overlooked the waters of Paint Creek River.

Her sewing area appears to be stolen space in the laundry room. Her machine, maybe an old Singer 301 - perfect for sewing fine, straight seams.

A few of the rooms still have quilts in them. This one shows her quilting frame near one of those big windows.

I wish I had known Edith and am honored to be the caretaker of her stencils. I'll keep them together, print this blog post to go with them and set them aside with my things designated for the museum. I'm going to ask Pepper if she recalls anyone with that name as a customer. When you own a quilt shop it's amazing the names you can remember even years later.
I hope Edith's children treasure and enjoy the quilts she made. Hopefully, there were lots of quilts to warm them in both body and soul now that she's gone.

And I can't help but wonder if she was still quilting in her 90's .................... I hope so!


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