Recently I spent a week in Iowa at the AQS Quilt show in Des Moines and visiting my relatives in Wellman and Kalona. I really enjoyed everything about this trip especially walking the streets of Kalona and seeing how this little town has really refreshed itself. I hadn’t been here in more than 15 years and there was a lot that was still the same, but yet fresh and new. You could see how the community had gotten together to work on making their town unique and draw attention to a craft that so many there are truly gifted at ‘quilting’. All up and down the main streets hang flags with quilt blocks on them and under your feet there are quilt blocks embedded in the sidewalk with plaques stating the name of the block and who sponsored it. As I read the pamphlet that I picked up with a map to where each block is and some other information about each one I realized that many had been designed by people in the community and 2 were done by my Aunt (the block at the right is one of them) who owned a quilt store there which is now being run by my cousins wife, Grace, called the Stitch N Sew Cottage. It would be so easy for me to just move back here and feel at home, then they all started talking about the impending winter and cutting wood and I knew I would be going home to California very glad to have taken the trip.
As a child I spent most of my summers here with my Grandparents, Aunt,Uncle and cousins and Great Aunt and learned a lot about life especially at the little church where I went to Sunday School and Bible School. This church has not changed much at all, even a lot of the same people still attend. The Wellman Mennonite Church has been for me, the ideal church, the one I compared every church I ever went to to and none of them ever measured up. It made me see that you don’t need a big fancy building to reach out and teach the word of God, but kind people gathered in a simple building to open their hearts and souls to each other and God, singing lots of hymns and sharing food while being there for each other in good times and difficult times. It is a wonderful place with a lot of good childhood memories for me. The same church pews are still there and the simple altar is still standing and still simple as it should be. I got to be there for communion and a feet washing ceremony which I had never participated in before and I really enjoyed being a part of it.
I arrived in Kalona on a Saturday evening after visiting with relatives. Sunday morning I was awoke by the sound of horses clopping down the street as the Amish were all heading off to church and I knew I was in Kalona and felt like I had come home in a way. The next day I saw the Amish children, not more than 19 years old driving the horse and buggies home from school with their siblings and some were walking on the dirt road barefoot. It was so nice to see kids with a little different attitude living a lifestyle I thought was forgotten.
My Uncle volunteers at the Kalona Historical Museum and gave me my own personal tour through the 2 quilt museums. One is all about Amish quilts and the other had an exhibit by Thuy Nguyen both exhibits were really nicely displayed and kept in humidity and light controlled rooms. I could take pictures as long as I didn’t use the flash and luckily they came out really nice. Thuy’s applique is amazing, she does such precise work. I enjoyed seeing this up close. There were several thread cabinets in the displays that I was wishing I could have taken just one home with me though it would have been hard to choose which one.
I think Kalona is doing a wonderful job of showing off the talents of so many of its residences. There is a big community of Amish and Mennonites and they all make some amazing quilts to share with so many in need. It was a wonderful thing to see and would make a great destination if you are interested in quilting and the history of quilting all with a small town feel.
There were so many quilt blocks set in to the sidewalks I am thinking that it would be fun to make a Kalona quilt using all the blocks in a sampler quilt…future project. Some of them are actually pretty complicated and I keep wondering how they ever got the bricks cut so precise and colored nicely too. Here are just a few more…click on them to see up close just what I mean.
Each of these is about a 3 foot square and set into the sidewalk. Quite a work of art!
Quilts, family and friends…all beautiful pieces of my life!