ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Sometimes art has a power that extends beyond its aesthetic impact.
Since 1989, Grace Brandt of rural Hillsboro has been using her gifts in quilt piecing and applique to help make a tangible difference for people-both locally and around the world.
For the 20th time, a quilt she has pieced will be sold at the Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale in Hutchinson. This year’s event will take place April 8-9 and Brandt’s handiwork will join some 250 hand-crafted quilts and quilt-related items at the annual auction on Saturday.
“I like to do it for MCC and Bethel College-that’s two things we really support,” Grace said about effort to combine her avocation with her faith convictions.
This year’s quilt is titled “Stars Around the Garden Path.” Like many other projects she has taken on, this one was done in partnership with a second party. This year she joined forces with the missions society at Eden Mennonite Church near Moundridge.
“I pieced it and appliqued it,” Brand said of the full-sized quilt. “I don’t quilt. I do little wall hangings, but I don’t quilt.”
This year’s project has been in the works for some time.
“I did it almost two years ago already-they’re kind of slow quilters,” she said with a chuckle. “It took them a while.”
As is usually the case, Brandt was asked by the organization to help with this year’s quilt. Together, they agree on the design of the quilt and oftentimes the organization will also supply the fabrics they want her to use.
“I do everything on top (of the quilt),” Brandt said. “I piece it all together and I mark it. Then they take it, put the batting in the back and they quilt it.”
Brandt said she doesn’t know how many hours she invested in this year’s quilt.
“That’s really hard to say because I pick it up and put it down, and pick it up and put it down,” she said. “I probably worked on it for about three weeks, maybe six hours a day.”
For this quilt, Brandt was given the freedom to choose the colors. She picked a primary combination of green and bronze.
“My sister gave me some wall-paper samples of her bedroom,” Brandt said about the choice. “She wants (to buy) it, so it matches her bedroom.
She added with a chuckle: “But I don’t know if she’ll get it or not.”
Brandt’s interest in quilting came relatively late in her life. She said artistic ability runs in her family, but she never really discovered hers until she practically was forced to after her involvement in their family’s egg operation abruptly changed.
“We had all these chickens, and the guys decided, ‘This is enough with these chickens’-and I was lost,” she said. “I didn’t have anything to do, and I didn’t feel like getting up in the morning.
“Then my aunt, Ethel Abrahams, took me to a quilt show at Peabody and I saw quilt there I really liked. I made up my mind, ‘I’m going to make this.’
“I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Brandt said she’s completed 128 full-sized quilt tops during the ensuing years and about 70 wall quilts.
Many of those projects have been done for fund-raisers, but not all of them. For example, she has created a quilt for each of her six grandchildren.
In fact, the quilt she completed for 19-year-old grandson Dustin is one of her all-time favorites.
“I did it from a picture,” she said of the design. “It was called ‘Mariner’s Compass.’ It was really a male quilt-it had dark colors. Sometimes I almost gave up on it, trying to cut those pieces without a pattern. But it turned out well.”
So well, in fact, that the quilt won the grand-champion award at last summer’s Marion County Fair.
Brandt said she doesn’t know how much money her 19 quilts have generated for the worldwide relief and development efforts of MCC, but she remembers which one generated the highest bid.
“The one I did for (the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church), called ‘The Quilt of Many Colors.’ that was the top one. It brought $7,800 and went to Colorado.
“That one really turned out pretty,” she added. “It had so many different fabrics in it. They picked the pattern and the ladies all got together and got their fabrics. It was fun.”
Helping MCC raise funds through the Relief Sale is important to Brandt.
“One year I didn’t have a quilt for MCC,” she said. “Time was running out and I said, ‘We’ve just have to have a quilt.’ So I quickly pieced one together and I asked (Florence Friesen) if she’d quilt it. She quilted it and wouldn’t take any money for it…. And then we went ahead and bought it back.”
Brandt said her work with quilts has become an enjoyable outlet in her life.
“It just gets to you,” she said of the process. “It’s very fulfilling to see the finished product. I don’t always get to see the quilted version when it’s done. Some have gone to New York and California and Oklahoma. And the MCC sale in Illinois, I’ve done some for them, too.”
Brandt’s avocation has taken on a new dimension since doctors diagnosed her with cancer last July. Since August, she has been undergoing a round of chemotherapy treatment every other week.
“The doctor encouraged her to keep busy,” Raymond said. “So she said, ‘I’ll try a wall hanging.’ She’s done eight of them since then.”
Grace said she enjoys showing the fruit of her handiwork to her cancer doctor in Newton.
“I bring him wall quilts that I have finished,” she said. “He always says, ‘You’re an artist, you’re really an artist.’ He always encourages me to do things. It’s fun to show him the quilts.”
Even with her current health challenge, Brandt said she has no intention of curbing her full-sized quilt projects.
“I’m working on one right now for Lucille Klassen,” she said. “She had all the fabric when I got sick and she’s been waiting. I’m doing pretty good. I’ve got all the blocks done.”
And, as long as she is physically able, she’ll use her artistic gifts to raise money for the work of MCC.
“MCC is really important to us,” she said. “Especially the Peace Section in Washington, D.C.