FORT DODGE, Iowa (AP) — There isn’t a precise name for the grassroots project by seven Webster Country area women that produced more than 100 baby blankets and quilts that ultimately went to families served by the Webster County Health Department.
It wasn’t the output of a church endeavor or a longstanding women’s community group.
However, as two key members, Bev Buske and a daughter, Karen Barkley, talked about it one evening in late January, Barkley offered up a name.
“We call them Kelli kids quilts,” she said, namechecking Dr. Kelli Wallace, the interim director of the Webster County Health Department.
The Fort Dodge Messenger reports the genesis for the project came after a conversation Buske had with Wallace.
“I was talking with Kelli about the little kids who come into the office, and they don’t have much of anything,” Buske said. “I just wanted to make quilts to keep them warm.”
It all came together very easily, Barkley said.
“People who quilt, they love to quilt,” she said.
The seven women involved in the endeavor were Buske and Barkley, fellow Fort Dodge residents Lisa Schumack, Maddy Haverkamp and Nancy Riehl, along with Joann Eubanks, of Webster City, and Ann Wilber, of Nevada.
“It just blew up, everybody wanted to help,” Buske said.
“Mom did 100 percent of the binding (of the quilts). I also think of Mom as the binding of the group,” Barkley said.
Wallace was extremely grateful for the women’s work.
“These quilts are handmade with love from these amazing women. They gave these children and women the gift of love and warmth,” Wallace said.
They typically worked on Wednesdays each week. The group didn’t start out with a specific number of quilts to make, but once they got rolling, someone threw out the 100 number and that was embraced, Barkley said.
The women used their varying talents in putting together the quilts. That meant Eubanks did all the long arm quilting, Barkley sewed and coordinated most of the backings and binding fabric to go along with the tops sewn by the others, and Schumack sewed and coordinated fabric into quilt kits for the women to sew. Riehl and Haverkamp both sewed and donated many quilts they had previously made, and Wilber donated fabric and many previously completed quilts.
Buske not only launched the idea, but also provided her fantastically large sewing room in her rural Fort Dodge home. Buske also donated yards and yards of fabric out of her fabric room that would look right in place in a store.
Buske, who is in her 80s, learned to quilt back during the time of World War II, as taught by her paternal grandmother, Sarah Bigness, in Eagle Grove.
“I’ve been sewing since I was 7,” Buske said.
Told she has a skill, a talent, Buske replied, with a chuckle, “It is a sickness.”
It never felt like too much work or became a dreaded grind.
“No, it was so much fun to do,” Buske said.
“We loved it. We’d get the quilts back from Joann (after the long arm quilting), and we’d go. ‘Oh, 10 more.’” Barkley said.
The quilts the women produced were most often sized for infants in cribs, but some were bigger, plus they were a varied lot in appearance. They came in a host of colors and styles, with some having themes of Curious George, Tonka Trucks, the alphabet or super heroes. Sometimes the seven women would produce three to four quilts per Wednesday, and they wrapped the project by late 2022.
Barkley said there wasn’t a solid dollar figure that it took to make the quilts, but it was considerable. Their output was turned over to Wallace, then the quilts went to a lot of needy families served by the Health Department.
Ward said the quilts went to a few single mothers with no family support, and each person who got a quilt were “low income and having significant financial struggles.”
They also have decided on a second big project, so soon in 2023 the women will craft and submit dresses to the Dress A Girl Around The World project of the nonprofit group Hope 4 International Women, in Forest City. Buske had heard of that group while at — where else — a quilting retreat in Story City.
That next project will likely kick off in March, and undoubtedly be a success, Barkley said.