What a stitch: Dorothy Cummings showcases hobby at rural homeWORTHINGTON — The number of quilts Dorothy Cummings has fashioned in her lifetime likely stretches into the multiple hundreds. She’s stitched up quilts for family, friends, acquaintances and many strangers. When one is done, she’s eager to move on to the next project, so she doesn’t get too attached to her creations.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The number of quilts Dorothy Cummings has fashioned in her lifetime likely stretches into the multiple hundreds. She’s stitched up quilts for family, friends, acquaintances and many strangers.
When one is done, she’s eager to move on to the next project, so she doesn’t get too attached to her creations.
“This is silly, but in all the years I’ve quilted, I don’t have quilts on my bed or displayed in the house,” she noted.
Only a few have been deemed special enough to keep, including her very first attempt.
“I’ve been quilting since I was 5,” explained Dorothy. “We visited my grandmother, and she’d cut out all the squares and we girls made doll quilts. I still have it, although it’s not in good shape. I had to rescue it a few times from my husband. He didn’t think it was something worth keeping.”
Her other keepsake quilts — none that she made herself — are carefully packed away in a box. Perhaps the most precious was made by her husband, Joe, who died last year.
“One of them Joe made after his first heart attack so he wouldn’t go crazy,” she explained. “One my mother and Aunt Nettie made for my dad when he was 21, and my mother embroidered one for me and had it quilted. She wasn’t a quilter.”
For many years, Dorothy was content to stitch her creations by hand, but the purchase of a special sewing machine a couple decades ago kicked her quilting habit into high gear.
“I bought my first quilting machine while we were on vacation in Kansas,” she recalled. “I have a habit of reading the classifieds, and one woman was selling her quilting machine. The price was such that I could write out a check and not have it bounce before we got home.”
The only problem with the machine was its size, and initially Dorothy thought they’d have to drive back to Kansas with a truck to bring it home. Her husband had a different idea.
“Joe said if it was going home, it was going to have to fit in the backseat of the Jetta,” referring to the small car they were driving on the trip. “So he took a hacksaw to it and cut it into four-foot lengths — it had a 12-foot table — put it in the back of the red Jetta and brought it home. He put it back together a year later. He said he was too busy, but he finally did it, took it to the shop at Exhaust Pros and did it for a birthday surprise for me.”
The first quilt that Dorothy made with her birthday surprise was a quilt for one of her grandchildren, now in his 20s.
“Once I got the machine, I couldn’t get enough,” she said. “It was addictive. I was working at Wolff’s at the time and did the books at Exhaust Pros. I’d quilt before I went to work, quilt when I got home. My day started at 4 in the morning and ended at 11 at night. I don’t do that anymore.”
Since the machine didn’t have a manual with diagrams, Dorothy learned to work it largely through trial and error.
“It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be,” she admitted. “I had never seen one work, so it’s been a learning experience. The woman I bought it from suggested using old sheets or muslin to practice on. It’s all about getting your mind, feet and hands working together. At one class I took, the teacher said it was like doing the polka.”
Once she got the hang of the quilting dance, Dorothy began churning out quilts at a rapid pace, and she marketed her wares at a few select craft shows in the area. While she still does the occasional hand-pieced quilt from start to finish, much of her joy comes in finishing what other people have started or what she terms “cheaters,” large pieces of fabric that are quilted with an all-over design.
Over the years, Dorothy has taken her quilted creations to a few select craft shows around the area. She also sells her quilts through the Odin Craft Mill, the Country Co-Op in Jackson County and on an etsy.com website.
“I go to shows so people can see what I can do,” she said. “They’ve put hard work and money —because fabric isn’t cheap any more — into a quilt top, and they want to know what kind of work you do. Down the road they’ll give me a call. Maybe Aunt Mabel died and left all these unfinished quilt tops. I do a lot of those.”
Dorothy endures a lot of teasing about her quilting habit from her family — she has six children (Thomas, Ernie, Tracy, Jamie Anne, Maria and Christopher), 19 grandchildren, one great-grandchild and another on the way — but they recently joined forces to help make her dream of having a place to display her quilts come true.
“When my mother passed away, we thought about building a building out here,” said Dorothy, who lives on a farm west of Worthington. “But then we had a chance to buy this old trailer house, and we had a guy come in and gut it, put in new flooring. Joe put the deck on, but then it’s been sitting here for a lot of years. He always said, ‘I’m going to do it,’ but his health wouldn’t let him. When Joe passed away, I had more time on my hands and needed to do something.”
The trailer became a family project and is now ready to welcome visitors.
“I eventually plan to work out here,” Dorothy said, although her kids want her to wait until spring so she doesn’t have to walk on the ice more than necessary. “I’m going to put my rolls of batting out here and some of my fabric. My house is about to run over.”
“It’s been running over for years,” injects youngest son Chris.
Dorothy’s collection of toy sewing machines is displayed on shelves above the trailer’s windows, and her inventory of quilts hangs on large racks. New curtains — made on Dorothy’s sewing machine, of course — hang over the windows, and Christmas décor has been added to spruce up the space.
“I’ve got baby quilts, bed quilts, mainly queen and a couple of kings, cheaters and pieced ones, pillows, purses, wall-hangings, tree skirts, table runners, microwave tater bags,” detailed Dorothy. “(Daughter-in-law) Michelle has been doing embroidery on tea towels and a few of the wall hangings.”
For Dorothy, quilting is more than just an enjoyable pastime. She finds satisfaction in sitting at her sewing machine and creating something both beautiful and useful.
“I like the idea of taking something, cutting it apart, putting it back together again and seeing how the quilting makes it pop,” she reflected. “Even an ugly quilt can look pretty after you add quilting to it.”
Her new enterprise, dubbed Dorothy’s Quilting Boutique, is getting its debut with an open house this weekend. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at 27676 260th St. (Fox Farm Road). Phone 376-6638 or 370-4343.