When Jody Bracken started Heartland Quilters in Barnsdall, she hoped she would find a few other like-minded quilters who wanted to get together. What she really discovered was one tight-knit group.
It was after she closed her pawn business in Pawhuska, which she ran for 28 years, that her lifelong dream of owning a quilt shop soon became a reality.
She spotted the perfect building just barely on the outskirts of Barnsdall a decade ago and where a Dollar General stands adjacent to it today. Still, the vacant structure was in need of some major renovation before the hum of sewing machines revved up.
“The roof was falling in and we gutted it completely and started over,” said Bracken, adding that by 2010, “Everything fell in place. It was meant to be and works perfectly for this group.”
Inside the roomy and comfortable setting, steam gently rises from dozens of irons. Stacks of fabric are folded neatly next to cutting tables. Working behind their trusty sewing machines, a circle of women of all ages and from all over the region, share the conversation that runs the gamut from movies to family to travels.
“I come every week I can. I enjoy everything about sewing. It’s my favorite thing to do, and I love to do hand-quilting. I’ve been sewing for … well, let’s just say a long time,” said Barbara Weintz with a smile.
There’s a lot of smiling elsewhere in the room, too. That’s because each quilt a member lovingly stitches goes to a soldier at the Tulsa Vet Center. More than 900 patriotic quilts have been donated since August 2010, according to Bracken.
Each cozy quilt comes with an authentic Heartland Quilters patch and letter from the group thanking those who served in the armed forces.
“I just wanted to do something fun and benefit somebody,” she said. “It’s just been amazing. We had a veteran from Shidler that gave us these orange chairs and people came down to help us build our ironing boards. People just wanted to jump in and help.”
Other major supporters include the American Legion Auxiliary Post No. 198, Pawhuska Elks Lodge and the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Altar Society in Pawhuska.
When a bundle of quilts are ready to be given, each one is placed in a hand-sewn pillowcase stitched by local church groups, other sewing circles and individuals.
“The Piecemakers Quilt Guild in Bartlesville is a big, big supporter but a lot of those girls work so they send stuff to us, and if they happen to get a day off on a Tuesday, they come help,” said Bracken.
It’s easy to see the instant kinship among this sewing circle as members share expertise and companionship every week. As lifelong quilt-maker Maxine Bottenberg put it, “Quilters are very friendly. It’s fun to be around them. We all have something in common. We always have conversation.”
Now in her mid-90s, Bottenberg has made countless baby quilts for her kids, grand kids and great-grandchildren. She clearly recalls the first dress she made for a tennis match when she was just 10 years old.
Like many others with the Heartland Quilters group, Bottenberg has traveled all over the country to different quilt shops and shows.
“My husband always said if there’s a quilt shop, the car just automatically just turned in,” said Bottenberg. And along the route, she picked up dozens of thimbles to add to her massive collection, which today totals more than a thousand.
She’s still quilting on her small but reliable Singer sewing machine that she purchased in Bartlesville back in December 1941.
“They froze them because of the war, and I bought the last one they sold. I have a few others, but that one is kind of my favorite,” said Bottenberg, who recalled the beloved machine around $125. “I was making $85 a month and that was a lot of money to buy for a sewing machine.”
Spending endless hours doing handiwork is something in a hardcore quilter’s “blood,” explained Weintz.
“I don’t think a quilter ever quits quilting,” she said.
Indeed, Lea Nelson drives about 84 miles from Shidler to see her quilting pals every week. She’s currently working on three different quilts, including one for her nephew who finished a tour in Iraq.
“I’ve really learned a lot from these ladies, I really have. They know a lot,” said Nelson.
She’s been sewing since the late ’70s. Before the death of her mother, the pair made a deal that they would make a quilt once a month.
“We actually averaged more than that. Sometimes I can get one done in a week if I stay with it,” Nelson said
Sally Williams and Jerre Jay both live in Copan and regularly make the drive to Barnsdall together for a day of friendship and productivity.
“I enjoy the camaraderie and you get to know everybody and their family and what they’re doing. You hear their travel tales and of course the aches and pains,” said Williams, who garnered second place with one of her quilts at the recent Washington County Free Fair. “I have no idea how many I’ve made. I couldn’t even start to guess.”
Jay, who’s been quilting since she was a child, joined the Heartland Quilters about a year ago. She said it’s her fellow quilting friends that keep her coming back each week.
“Sally introduced me to the group. I quit work on Friday and she came by the following Tuesday and here we are,” said Jay, adding that the hobby is a great creative outlet.
“You look at the fabric and make up any pattern that you want. It’s a challenge, and we enjoy that,” she said.
When Phyllis Cummins came to Bartlesville to volunteer at the Voice of the Martyrs, she also enrolled in a quilting class at Tri County Technology Center. While there, she joined the Piecemakers Quilt Guild and also spent many hours watching how-to-quilt television programs. She recommended that those interested in picking up the hobby first make a visit to a quilting session.
“Quilters are so helpful and if you have a problem and go to a guild, they’ll show you how to do it. It’s nice that everybody takes care of everybody else. They are there to help you,” said Cummins.
The Heartland Quilters not only teach newcomers how to quilt, but also can provide necessary supplies such as sewing machines, rotary cutters, rulers, patterns and other essentials.
The group meets from 10 a.m. to around 3 p.m. every Tuesday (unless there’s inclement weather) at 415 North 8th St. in Barnsdall. For more information, call 918-639-0251.