Mary Jean Dolsen works with the other quilters on a veterans-
themed quilt. The group, started by Dolsen more than 45 years ago because she wanted to learn to quilt, donates every quilt to charity. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

“Quilting is a gift.”

This quote from one of Superior’s Holy Assumption Quilters, the quilting circle at Holy Assumption Catholic Church, describes the craft’s multiple rewards: a gift as an art form, a gift as a social community for the women involved, and a gift to those who benefit from their dedication and generosity.

Wanting to learn to quilt, Mary Jean Dolsen, of Superior, invited some friends to start meeting in her home in 1972.

“My mother did a lot of sewing. I was 8 when she died. But I remember that,” Dolsen said.

Within a few years, they moved meetings to the parish center. The year-round Wednesday morning gatherings at Holy Assumption are usually attended by 10 to 12 women. During the summer months, as many as two dozen meet, including family members visiting from out of town.

Members of the group receive many annual requests for quilts to raffle and auction off in the Twin Ports region. Hundreds, if not thousands, of quilts have been made, according to Fr. Andrew Ricci, pastor of the parish, which is in South Superior.

Other quilts are given directly to charity organizations, resource centers and shelters. In the past, quilts have also been given to police officers and women’s shelters to pass out. Beneficiaries include: Life House Duluth, Harbor House Crisis Shelter, Superior Fire Department, St. Mary’s Hospital in Superior and North Country Ride equestrian therapy camp, among many others. Quilts have also been donated to local fundraisers for families and individuals with special needs.

Holy Assumption Quilters takes “anybody and everybody,” including non-Catholics. The ladies, as motley as the fabrics and patterns artfully aggregated in their work, spoke with good humor and generosity.

Julie Scherzer, of Michigan, was visiting her mother, Bonnie Peterson, when the Catholic Herald visited the quilters. Attending whenever she is in Superior, Scherzer said, “I find thread from rummage sales and bring it when I come.”

Peterson has been quilting at Holy Assumption for more than 30 years, and she said she enjoys the camaraderie, catching up on stories and sharing marriage and family advice.

During their coffee breaks, donations are anonymously collected for Superior’s Faith Church Food Pantry, which operates out of Faith United Methodist Church. Approximately $200 is donated monthly.

Proud of the fact that no one gives directions or assigns tasks, each member contributes their gifts where they want. The skilled and schooled quilters hone their art form next to the amateurs, happy to coordinate fabrics, sew pieces together or tie knots on simpler quilts.

One quilter shared, “Not everybody has the talent … to sit down with a hunk of material and cut it and color-coordinate it and sew it on the machine.”

“Quilting is a gift. I don’t have the gift, but I don’t mind topstitching,” another apprentice member said. “I just like being around the other women – best bunch of women you could ever hang around with.”

Each quilt – requiring anywhere from hours to months to complete – is worked on by multiple members.

The art of quilting requires coordinating various, often unrelated, parts and fabrics into a whole. Working with only donated fabrics, the women make quilts designed to be a correlated theme or more random “crazy quilts.”

Quilting, the decorative design stitching piecing the layers together, is best appreciated from the underside, usually one large piece of fabric. One of the quilters shared the story of Holy Assumption’s retired pastor, Fr. Ron Olson, and how as a boy, he would crawl underneath the quilts his mother and grandmother worked on to watch the developing designs.

This intergenerational aspect of quilting, as with many of the textile arts, was acknowledged. Various quilters present during the interview spoke of 10-year-old Leah, great-granddaughter of Dolsen, whose family has been members of Holy Assumption parish for six generations.

Interested in sewing and designing clothes, Leah came weekly over the summer with her grandmother, who also faithfully quilts with the group.

“She loved coffee time as much as the creative projects,” the ladies said.

Mary Spenningsby, who joined the quilters in the spring, has been quilting for 35 years. She moved to the area five years ago upon retirement and has also enjoyed belonging to a modern quilting group in Duluth.

Quilting is an evolving art, Spenningsby said, and there are always new methods to learn. Her favorite challenge is choosing the fabric, combining colors and textures, and coming up with new and original ideas.

Spenningsby grew up in a sewing family. Her mother, Anna Quick, was born in 1917 in rural North Dakota and had six sisters and one brother; they made all of their own clothes.

While many of the quilters grew up with family members who sewed for necessity, they find quilting to be a relaxing and therapeutic creative process. With each project intended for charity, this group has taken its craft to a higher purpose.