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Not your grandmother’s quilts: Local woman shares love of sewing with youth

Bold, beautiful colors and carefully chosen textures combine with precise stitches. Some include surprising themes, from Harry Potter to a favorite video game. Another incorporates a poem written by the same hand that stitched it.

In other words, these aren’t your grandmother’s quilts.

Rhonda Luther didn’t want to talk about her nomination to the Ray County Hall of Fame. Instead, she wanted to talk about the kids whom she has spent so much time with, passing on her skills and love of quilting. She took a definite pride – not in herself, but in the kids with whom she works through 4-H. She says she loved the look on her students faces after they realize what they accomplished. It helps them to realize what they can do.

When told that she had been nominated to the Ray County Fair Hall of Fame, after over 20 years of leadership, Luther told the nominators they should find a more deserving person.

“What’s more important to me in the quilting line is teaching it to younger kids. I’d much rather have the kids get a quilt done than to finish one of mine. I really love to see the excitement in the kids’ eyes, when they go from ‘this is what I want to do’ to ‘look at what I did.’”

 The love of her students

Although Luther wanted to talk only about her students, her students were more than willing to talk about her.

“She’s an amazing teacher. She is so helpful, just incredibly helpful,” says Chris Layman, one of her students. “She walks us through it, step-by-step, but makes sure we do it ourselves, so we know how to do it later on our lives.”

Sisters Skylar and Kaitlin Freed agreed, adding Luther made quilting, which initially seemed daunting, easy and accessible for them.

Luther’s own quilts celebrate both capability and creativity, but it’s the quilts her students have completed that she displayed proudly. She knew each story that went with each child’s quilt, as well—why they chose what they chose, and how they chose to portray it.

A detail of just one of many quilts.

“So much of what they want to do is original,” Luther says. To that end, once a student has settled on a design, she teaches them to create their own pattern either with a computer program or graph paper. Once the pattern is completed, the students choose their fabrics and begin constructing their quilts—a process that can take 20 to 60 hours, depending on the complexity. But all a child needs to start quilting, Luther says, is a desire to do it, access to the tools they need, and someone who will work with them.

Some students go into a project thinking they can’t cut or sew a straight line, she says, but they soon discover they can. She explained quilting teaches students fine motor skills, as they learn to cut and sew a precise line, measurements and how to correctly use a ruler, fractions, and more.

Quilts as a ministry

The students complete almost all their work in Luther’s sewing room, which is full to bursting with multiple sewing machines and other equipment, amidst a colorful riot of material, scraps, and piles of pattern books. When asked how much she has invested in the machines and other tools she and her students use to complete their quilts, Luther jokingly demanded to go off record.

Luther started quilting as an adult, but she has sewn since she was a child.

“I started sewing by cutting the tops of my knee socks off and making clothes for my Barbies,” she laughed. Eventually, her sewing grew more constructive than destructive, and those repurposed knee socks launched a lifelong love of sewing.  Teaching others the craft she learned to love as a child is natural to Luther.

In addition to her involvement in teaching kids how to quilt and sew through 4-H, she uses her quilts as a ministry of sorts.

She is involved with Project Linus, a group that makes and delivers quilts to places like Children’s Mercy and battered women’s shelters. She also gives quilts away to friends and family.

For Luther, each quilt she has sewn has a story, and she knows them all. And, like a good author, she sends those stories out to be enjoyed by others.

By Samantha Kilgore •

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