83-year-old quilter creates masterpieces, then gives them away

by: Photo By Susan Matheny - This

   Quilting is a passion of 83-year-old Jessie Alice Strauch, who loves to make things and then give them away.
   "When I sit down, I always have something in my hands to work on," the Madras woman said, noting she also crochets.
   Just last year, she turned out and donated 29 lap robes for paralyzed and disabled veterans, 24 quilts for the Quiltathon in Prineville which benefits six charities, 14 afghans to put in the Elks Lodge's Christmas baskets for senior citizens, two quilt tops for child patients at the Casey Eye Institute, 20 baby blankets for newborns at Mountain View Hospital, a large quilt for the Mountain View Hospice benefit raffle, and numerous other baby blankets and quilts for Madras COBRA, the Salvation Army in Bend, and St. Vincent de Paul in Prineville.
   The lap robes, afghans and baby blankets are all crocheted, from the same pattern called "Navajo."
   "It's easy to remember and I don't have to watch every stitch I take," Strauch chuckled.
   But each quilt is a one-time creation. "We have patterns for just about everything we do, but she's never done two quilts alike, because the material is always different," said her daughter-in-law Becky Turner.
   The "Wild Thing" quilt Strauch stitched for last year's Relay For Life was done all in shades of brown. A quilt she gave the Prineville hospice two years ago raised $1,700 at an auction. Then there was the 6,864-piece "Log Cabin" quilt (made with one-inch strips) that she donated to a hospice in Maine in appreciation for the care they gave a longtime friend.
   "Hospice just has a spot in my heart; it doesn't matter where it's located," she said.
   In her spare time, Strauch makes stuffed toys, gifts for relatives, enters quilts in the county fair, and plans to show quilts at the April 15, Quilt Show at the Madras senior center.
   "She's something else to keep up with," admitted Turner, who is also an avid quilter.
   "We always work together, but she's the driving force -- trust me!" Turner said.
   In a spacious house with room for a sewing room and large cutting table, the pair have worked out a production method.
   Strauch finds a pattern she likes, then Turner creates a fabric color palette by searching the "fabric stash" they've accumulated over the years. The women also have shelves stocked with quilt patterns and templates.
   Strauch said she started sewing at age 12 when she got her first sewing machine and has been sewing ever since.
   "I always said when I retired I was going to sit and sew and crochet to my heart's content -- and I've been doing it," Strauch said happily.
   The habit of giving things away to charity began during the 10 years she lived in the Virgin Islands and worked at a resort hotel. "The natives needed help, so I sewed clothes in the evenings and on my days off. I took them to the church and they gave it away," she said, noting she began quilting in 1985 and continued giving to charities because, "I figure I'm giving something back and I like helping people."
   After that, she lived with her son Tom Turner in Wyoming, moved to Prineville in 1990, then in 2000 left to help her older son Jim Turner and his wife Becky run their busy 7-11 Store in San Diego, Calif. Five years ago, she, Jim and Becky all relocated to Madras.
   She had gotten active with Prineville quilters while living there, and still travels to weekly meetings every Monday at the Prineville Senior Center.
   "We don't sit and complain or knock somebody. We quilt, knit and crochet. I can't say enough nice things about that bunch," she said of the joy the group brings to her.
   As word about her expertise began to spread in Madras, Turner said Strauch began giving quilting lessons once or twice a month to help those trying to learn. During one project they learned how to dye fabric, and in others created quilted wall hangings.
   It takes a lot of fabric and yarn to make all the items Strauch gives away each year, and while she purchases much of it, some is donated to her.
   "We have friends who go to yard sales and estate sales looking for it," Turner said. Another source is the "Free Cycle" computer list for Central Oregon.
   "I posted what she was doing on Free Cycle and two people contacted me with two big bags full of yarn," Turner said.
   What they can't use, they knit into pot holders or pass on to other ladies who make knitted socks, and scarves for Christmas baskets.
   Fabric scraps are used to make table runners, chair backs, and wall hangings. "None of my scraps ever go to waste," Strauch said.
   In addition to charities, the two women have also given quilts and items to relatives as gifts. "We've made quilts for all Becky's relatives, but I think it's a conspiracy because they all have king-sized beds!" Strauch said laughing.
   Sometimes Strauch gets a thank you letter or a call from a quilt recipient, and a couple of times she's even seen her quilts on people's laps, which she really enjoyed.
   Her current project is a 12-color "Eureka" patterned quilt which will probably be donated to a charity in Wyoming.
   Any local people who have yarn or fabric they would like to donate to Strauch's projects can do so by calling 475-1200.
   "We'll be tickled to death to get it," Strauch said.
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