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Published: 3/31/2005

Ottawa Lake church women create quilts from remnants

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Judy Nieman, Sylvia Pecsenye, Ruth Olrich, Irene Koester, Pat Ortman, and Anna Rittner, from left use their
talented fi ngers to produce quilts in the basement of Zion Lutheran Church.
Judy Nieman, Sylvia Pecsenye, Ruth Olrich, Irene Koester, Pat Ortman, and Anna Rittner, from left use their talented fi ngers to produce quilts in the basement of Zion Lutheran Church.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

OTTAWA LAKE - These are not the fingers of the young.

Many are callused and curved with age and arthritis. They sometimes struggle to grasp tiny objects. Some are prone to shake involuntarily.

Yet each Thursday morning from January to June for the last 20 years, these talented fingers cruise gracefully over remnants of discarded cloth in the basement of Zion Lutheran Church in Ottawa Lake. They stitch and stretch, pin and poke; and through these labors transform formerly worthless trash into beautiful handmade quilts destined for the four corners of the world.

"We just have fun being here," explained Anna Rittner, of Riga, one of the ladies of the church who has spent more than two decades sewing hundreds of handmade quilts in the church basement each week - quilts that will all be given away to those in need.

"You come each week, and you don't miss unless you're sick," Mrs. Rittner said.

The dozen-or-so women range in age from their early 60s to almost 90. Each has a different role in the process - responsibilities not so much assigned as accepted - and they piece together their three-layer creations around a huge wooden rectangular quilting frame with near-effortless efficiency.

"Last year, we made 75 quilts," said Barbara Holtz, who serves as the chairwoman of the church's ladies group. "Most of them get sent up to Ann Arbor where they're donated to Lutheran World Relief, but some stay around here. It just depends on who needs them."

The women are not all members of Zion Lutheran; some come from Toledo or Sylvania, others from neighboring congregations. But they all feel a kinship in their vocation, knowing that the hundreds of quilts they have made over the years are being put to good use.

The quilts, all 60-inches by 80-inches, are made to have as few seams as possible, Sylvia Pecsenye explained, "because the seams are the weakest part." Materials include old bedsheets, cloth pieces, comforters, whatever can be gathered together through donation or inexpensively at local garage sales.

"They have to be sturdy. They may end up being used as a ground cover or to provide shelter or warmth, even as a burial shroud," said Mrs. Pecsenye, of Toledo, a former member of Zion who returns each week to quilt. "We never know what they're going to be used for."

The women can turn out as many as five full quilts a week, and once a year, the pews in the church are covered in their work for a Sunday service so that the quilts can be blessed by the congregation before they're sent on their way.

"We're really very proud of these ladies and what they do," Mrs. Holtz said.



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