Piece-ful art

Esther Johnson this year’s Quilter of the Year

Esther Johnson of Marquette, this year’s Quilter of the Year as chosen by the Marquette County Quilters’ Association, looks over her creations. The Autumn Comforts Quilt Show is scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 21-22 at the University Center. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — If you want to just keep warm, a store-bought flannel blanket or cotton bed cover should suffice.

If you want to keep warm with a work of art, a quilt is the better choice.

The public will have a good opportunity to view these creations at the Autumn Comforts Quilt Show set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 21 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Great Lakes Rooms at the University Center on the campus of Northern Michigan University.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines a quilt as a bed covering or blanket made from layers of fabric around a layer of batting, with the layers stitched together in a design or pattern.

That’s all true, but a quilt is so much more. It can have a basic design or have a multi-colored, intricate design like tumbling blocks, double wedding ring or eight-point star. They also can be customized depending on the individual quilter.

More than 300 quilts will be on display at the show, put on by the Marquette County Quilters’ Association, that represent quilters from across Marquette County and other areas.

There will be a special program honoring MCQA Quilter of the Year, Esther Johnson, 84, of Marquette Township, at 2 p.m. Oct. 21.

Johnson, a longtime MCQA member, is retired after a distinguished career with Marquette Area Public Schools, serving as assistant superintendent. She also was a teacher and principal at the former Fisher Elementary School and principal of the former Whitman Elementary School. She returned to Fisher to close the school and then had a hand in opening the new Superior Hills Elementary School.

However, she could be considered retired only in the paid-employment sense of the word.

According to the MCQA, Johnson has made 84 king-, queen-, full- and twin-sized quilts as well as many smaller ones. Her quilts have found homes in Finland, Canada, Washington state, Arizona, Minnesota, North Carolina and many parts of Michigan.

She also has made numerous full-sized quilts for Harbor House, cot quilts for Bay Cliff Health Camp, quilts for the neonatal intensive care units of local hospitals, and Teddy Bear quilts for the Salvation Army and the St. Vincent de Paul store.

Johnson said she has been quilting since she retired 21 years ago.

What is important in the quilting world, she said, is the appreciation of what goes into all the work, which involves numerous stitches and the cutting of many individual pieces of cloth.

“I think they’re like art,” Johnson said.

Her home is decorated with many of her quilts, giving it a more than homey touch.

They’re unique as well.

“I don’t always go by just what the pattern shows,” Johnson said. “I change it to be what I want.”

Birds, flowers and nature among her favorite subjects for printed fabrics and patterns in her quilts.

Just take a look at a large quilt hanging on one of her walls, which includes a conifer tree, a loon, a fish and bobber, and even a mosquito.

It’s like you’re looking at the Upper Peninsula in fabric.

However, Johnson also has an interest in historical quilts.

“I’ve very much interested in the earlier quilting patterns and designs, like from the 1800s and so on,” Johnson said.

Some of those quilts were made for practical reasons.

“They had to make them to get along,” she said.

Her bed quilts will keep a person warm, but they — as well as the others — definitely have an aesthetic appeal.

How did she learn this craft?

“I read at the beginning,” Johnson said. “Of course, I’ve done sewing all my life, but I didn’t make quilts. I didn’t have time to when I was working.”

She gleaned ideas from quilt groups and displays, but uses her imagination too.

“You see something outside and you think, ‘That would be fun to make into something,'” Johnson said. “Nowadays there are gorgeous fabrics.”

More than likely, gorgeous fabrics will be on display at the show. A Dresden Plate raffle quilt, for example, was made especially for the show.

A drawing for the MCQA 2017 raffle quilt, “Superior Sea,” will be at 3 p.m. Oct. 22.

The show also will have door prizes, vendors and demonstrations. Admission is $5.

The MCQA, formed in 1979, is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the art of quilting, patchwork, applique and related fiber arts. Meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month in the lower level of the Peter White Public Library.

For more information, visit marquettequilters.com.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.