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For 36 years, Spring Valley's Jan Czapiewski has taken needle in hand to create some of the most remarkable, artistic creations in the county. She has the awards to prove it. Hung, draped and folded in nearly every room of the cozy home she shares with husband, Bob, are a rainbow of colorful quilts in various sizes and patterns she's created since being bitten by the sewing bug during a 7th grade Home Economics class. Carefully fastened to nearly every one of her creations is a first place blue ribbon from the Fillmore County Fair. Stacks of other ribbons including honorable mention, second place and even some Grand Champion honors are testament to the years Czapiewski has spent perfecting her craft.
"I first started sewing in Home Ec class and really enjoyed it," Czapiewski said.
Early on, her interest gravitated toward sewing her own clothes -- she even made the bridesmaid's dresses for her own wedding.
"It just kind of snowballed from there," she said.
When she and her husband moved to Spring Valley, neighbors soon learned of her talent and began requesting sewing projects of all kinds.
"I always try to make something before I'll buy it," Czapiewski said. "Wedding dresses, draperies -- you name it, I've sewn it," she said.
But it wasn't until joining a group of Spring Valley women in a Community Ed class some 13 years ago that Czapiewski's passion for quilting began.
"We sewed a quilt called 'Trip Around the World',” she recalled.
That was her first one, which she thoughtfully gave to one of her four daughters. But with three other girls and five boys in the family, she had plenty more opportunities to challenge her talents.
To mingle with others who shared her passion for the detailed sewing required for both hand and machine quilting, Czapiewski joined the Sew N Sews, a Spring Valley quilting club. Throughout the years, she has sewn upwards of 25 quilts and made many more wall hangings that she's shared with her nine children, 22 grandchildren, mother and mother-in-law. She was even commissioned by her sister to design a quilted banner for a church in another state. Like the memories she shares with the special people in her life, each of her quilts has its own special story and name.
"A very favorite one to me is the Friendship Quilt," Czapiewski said as she carefully unveiled the queen-sized masterpiece.
With individual blocks created by her friends in the quilting club, it has strong sentimental value. One block contains a small piece of material brought back from Norway by a fellow club member who has since passed away. Another block also was created by a friend who passed away.
"It's very special to me," said Czapiewski who has no plans of giving this special project away. Similar to the play, "Quilters", which outlines stories inspired by various blocks of a quilt, Czapiewski's quilt tells a memorable story all its own. For quilting buffs, "Quilters" is currently playing at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro.
Up the winding staircase in the Czapiewski home, at the top of the steps, hangs a brightly colored piece she created from swatches of cloth one of her sons brought back from Panama. Bordered in black, the vivid Molis appliques are featured among the brilliant hues Czapiewski chose to compliment the design. It, like many of the quilts adorning the home, is an award winner. Down in the living room, a smaller floral wall hanging demonstrates the creative flare Czapiewski possesses.
"The silk flowers from my daughter's wedding were just laying around catching dust so I decided to use them," she said. She painstakingly took each flower apart, petal by petal, to design a pattern that would work in a quilted wall hanging. She even replaced the flower centers with tiny beadwork.
"It wasn't easy -- the flowers kept moving around," she recalled. Putting her quilting abilities to work, Czapiewski used netting and scraps from other quilting projects to create a design and color scheme that sets off the nostalgic floral focal point of the piece. Czapiewski showed off yet another piece she called Buttons and Bows -- a quilt with tiny doilyed corners that reminds you of grandma.
"It was kind of an after thought," said Czapiewski about entering this work of art in the Fillmore County Fair one year. It won first place.
Out in Czapiewski's neatly organized sewing room are the tools of her trade -- a couple of sewing machines, a quilter's rack and stacks and stacks of fabric. Hung over the door are half-sewn bridesmaid dresses waiting to be completed in time for her youngest daughter's wedding this fall. In a bag are yards of fabric Czapiewski chose for the quilt she will give her daughter. "She hasn't seen the fabric -- it's going to be a surprise," she said with a smile. She enthusiastically detailed several more projects she currently has underway. Like a kid who can hardly wait for Christmas, Czapiewski eagerly anticipates the end of each project she undertakes.
"I love piecing things together and can't wait to see how they turn out," she said. "It gives you a real sense of accomplishment." But you can't enjoy quilting if it's rushed, according to Czapiewski, who said totally hand sewn quilts can take a year or more to complete.
"Quilting is not a job for me," she said. She prefers a more leisurely approach -- a couple of hours here and there in the evening while watching television or in the camper during a relaxing get away. During the hot, summer months she typically takes a hiatus, but with the Fillmore County Fair right around the corner, Czapiewski needs to quickly decide what she plans to enter this year. Will it be the blue and white kaleidoscope patterned Christmas wall hanging, the framed cross-stitched hanging or the many other quilts she's created over the past 12 months? I guess you'll just have to check out the Fillmore County Fair in Preston to find out. The fair runs from July 24 through July 28.
By Carol Thouin