Saturday, October 28, 2017

Quilters Through The Generations - Karen Thurn

Welcome to Melva Loves Scraps and Quilters Through The Generations!
Today I introduce to you Karen Thurn from Tu-Na Quilts, Travels and Eats!

Karen and I participated in the 2016 New Quilt Bloggers group on facebook together.  The group was formed to help new quilt bloggers improve the appearance of our blog homes.  It was "peer" oriented, which means all that were participating were offering critiques on the appearance and content of our blog posts.  We were all relatively new and open to suggestions to grow our audience.  Karen & I were able to meet in person at the Tucson Quilt Guild Show in February.  And again when Karen and her husband, Mark (Tu-Na Helper) stopped by for a short visit and tour of my sewing room in the spring as they traveled from AZ to their home in Bismark.

Have you ever made a quilt?  

 Yes, I have made many quilts.  Most of them have been given away.  

My first quilt was similar to a biscuit quilt and the centers of the squares were tied with yarn. 

 “I was sixteen when I made it.  Yarn tied in the center of each puffy blue or white square secured a nylon stocking.  (SAMPLE photos)

When I ran out of nylon stockings I placed an ad through a country magazine’s correspondence column asking for nylon stockings.  And people sent them to me! Lots and lots of them.  Along with them I received love letters, a proposal of marriage, and necklaces… as well as a bounty of nylons.
I machine and hand stitched the squares together. I used that quilt for many years but due to its heaviness, every time I pulled on it I could hear the hand stitching breaking… it needed constant repair. Finally, I made the decision for its future.
“Your old quilt sold first at the rummage sale,” my sister exclaimed thirty years ago as she handed me a dollar. I had been inside the house getting the last of the stuff together and ran to the window. I remember looking out that window and watching my quilt walk away and have regretted it ever since.”

Does your mother quilt?

Yes, my mom, Frances (Huber) Preszler, learned to sew clothing after she was married and eventually started quilting. Back then, clothes that had become outgrown but were still in good condition were saved and used for making quilts. She made a quilt for me when I was a freshman in college using bits and pieces of me and my siblings clothing and left over scraps.  We must have somehow missed the memo about needing to provide our own bedding… my parents went and purchased what I needed at a local store, including a very thin blanket.  When they returned to visit two weeks later, mom brought me that quilt she had made. 

She’s gone on to make quilts for each of her 17 grandchildren to celebrate either their high school graduation or their wedding. The wedding quilts are made from new 100% cotton and the graduation quilts are made from denim that she has hand embroidered pics of the grandchild’s activities and cars etc. She’s also made many beautiful wall hangings. 

In the 70s and 80s, double knit fabrics were sought after to make quilts. They would produce a quilt that was very sturdy but still soft.

Mom had lots of double-knit fabric left over from the clothing she made throughout the years for all of us kids (5) and herself. When they retired from the farm and moved to Bismarck a few years ago, a box of double-knit fabrics and used skirts, jackets, and pants moved with them. She’d been telling me she wanted to make quilts with them and finally, I said, “ok Mom, let’s get that box out and I’ll help.”  It took some convincing to get her to make a snowball/nine-patch instead of just cutting squares using a cardboard template.  

This quilt has a cotton backing and a nice poly batting with a high loft to give it a poofy look.  Because of the poly fabrics we chose to tie it rather than to quilt it.
As we cut and pieced the quilt Mom would mention what the fabric was used for, “Oh, this was from pants that you made” or “this was from your Dad’s jacket”, etc.

I think that polyester fabrics must multiply like rabbits, because that one box turned into 2 boxes, and then two full suitcases showed up as well! I think mom is very good at hiding her double knit stash. Mom’s dream of using those double knits for a quilt has now evolved into us making 5 quilts, one for each of my siblings and one for me. 

The snowball/nine patch quilt includes my sister Sheila’s prom dress. I got her permission first to cut it up but she didn’t know she was getting it back as a quilt.

We made a green/yellow/brown rail fence for my brother, Terry, because he took over the operations of the farm and only uses John Deere farm equipment. We were lucky to find some fabric that looked like farm land for the back and mom appliqued green tractors and barns on the it.

My sisters started hearing from Dad about the fun that mom and I were having on our “quilting days” and wanted in on the fun. These quilts were to be surprises, so I had to come up with another couple of quilt projects for all of us and keep our double knit quilts a secret, at least until Christmas last year when Mom decided to go ahead and gift the two finished quilts. 

We are now working on a brick quilt in burgundy and greys for my brother, Gary.  

My other sister, Bonnie, will be getting a pink and white quilt in the modern X O pattern. 

And mine will have pieces of the yellow dress my paternal grandmother, Katherina (Landenberger) Preszler (also a quilter) wore to my wedding and also to my brother’s wedding as well as the green dress my mom wore to my wedding. These quilts have and are turning out beautiful and they will wear like iron. They’ll be around for a long time.

My Maternal Grandmother, Julianna Huber, was also a quilter. She passed away when I was only three months old. Mom has some of her vintage 1930’s blocks that grandma made. When the original quilt had ripped beyond repair, mom removed the leaf shapes and sewed them onto pieces of very thin cotton/poly blend fabric.  My mom, sisters and I recently had a “quilting” day and my sister, Sheila who says she doesn’t quilt, worked on carefully removing the blocks so that we can applique them onto a 100% cotton fabric.

Even my mother-in-law, Ruth (Meidinger) Thurn, quilts.  She’s made each of her 8 married grandchildren a quilt which she gave to them on their wedding day.  She takes her quilting seriously as she can’t visit us or we can’t visit her on Tuesdays as that is quilting day at the church and they need her.

Have you taught someone to quilt?  

Yes, my daughter, Emily.  She had learned to sew clothing like skirts and aprons when she was younger and then told me that she had an interest in quilting and I just kind of guided her.  All her life, she’s been surrounded by fabric and quilting so she kind of learned by absorption. When she first started she would only focus on one project at a time.  She is hooked now and talks of what project she wants to start next and then another after that. She joined us for one day of the Minnesota Quilt Shop Hop this year and we had such fun! 

You can be part of all their fun over at Day 2 on Tu-Na Quilts…

How many quilts have you made?  

No idea, lots! Not counting two small wall quilts, the only one I have kept is my “21 year quilt”.  

Twenty two years ago, I took a quilting class where I learned how to use a rotary cutter and ruler which revolutionized quilting for me. I wanted to make a quilt for me since I didn’t have a good quilt that fit our queen size bed. I remember attending that class and sharing my strips of fabric with other quilters as they shared theirs with me. This class taught me the importance of accurate cutting.

I took those strips and sewed them into nine patches. I sewed many nine patches and then stuffed them into my fabric cupboard. Every now and then, I’d let them come out to play. I’d sew a few more nine patches, arrange and rearrange them, and then reshelf them while family and work responsibilities took priority.

Five years ago, I rediscovered them and took them over to my mom’s house. This quilt was meant for me and I wanted to get it done. Mom drew up a plan for setting those nine patches and together we laid them out and I sewed.
And then the top sat for another year until I rented time on a longarm and quilted it using a computerized program of hearts.  

Other quilts needed to be made and finished first and my quilt was folded and put away. When I was at my North Dakota home for Christmas last year, I unfolded it and machine stitched the binding to the top.

At this point I was tempted to return it to the pile but decided to begin to hand sew the binding to the back.

I didn’t get very far as I had to leave it behind when I flew back to Arizona on January 1st. Finally this spring, while I was on a quick trip back to my North Dakota house, I picked it up and finished hand sewing the binding. There you have the real story behind my quilt lovingly named “My 21 Year Quilt.”
The fastest that I have ever made a quilt was a full-sized quilt that took me one week from start to binding.

Do you have a favorite block? 

I have always liked the star blocks and all the variations of them. When I find a quilt pattern that I really like, I tend to make two quilts from it. I made two giraffe quilts, one for a grand daughter and a bit larger one for my grandson. Those were my first attempts at free-motion quilting on my home sewing machine. I backed those quilts with minky.  

Do you have a favorite quilt? 

I made a “Little house” quilt a couple of years ago for my best friend’s 7-year-old granddaughter in celebration of an answered prayer. Every night since this little girl began talking, she prayed for a daddy (her mom was single). This prayer was finally answered two years ago when her mom married and there was a surprise adoption blessing as part of the wedding ceremony. She loves the Little House book series which made this quilt perfect for her.

One that I aspire to make, I saw when Mark & I were at a yard sale a few years ago. 

It was covering up some equipment on a shelf. I opened my mouth and told them about how they were using (abusing) a valuable piece to cover up all their dirty, greasy stuff. We went to the car to get our camera to take a picture of it and when I returned, the quilt was neatly folded on a shelf. Had I not said anything, I probably could have bought it from them for a really good price. Unfortunately, I cannot locate the picture of it at this time...

Do you participate in any quilt groups?  

We reside in a retirement village in AZ during the winter months and I am part of a group there.  I made a presentation to our HOA board asking for our group to accept a donation of a longarm quilting machine and proposing putting it in a large room that would function as our work and classroom. Emily helped by submitting professional floor plans of that room (she is an interior designer). The board allowed us to accept the donation but could only give us a small space (8’ x 16’) to house it. The machine had been well used by the members quilting over 200 quilts in less than a year so the decision was made last spring to replace the original machine with an industrial Gammil machine. We are in the process of negotiating for a larger room, hopefully a building where classes can be held and a general work space for everyone. 

The group hosts a quilt show once a year although we have our own show and tell of our projects each week. I chair the membership committee and am a member of the longarm and program committees.  

Have you entered any quilt competitions?  

No… I quilt for fun, and don’t think that my work is good enough for anything like that. 

Have you sold any quilts? 

No, but I have donated some for fundraising auctions. I was amazed that my quilt for the church auction fetched over $250.00.

Where do you get your inspiration from? 

Several places… I get a lot from other bloggers and patterns, books, and magazines that I buy.  If I plan on making a quilt as a gift for someone, I like to hear from them what they like and then I try to figure out how I can make something special for a certain person.

Like the second Little House quilt that I made for my Grandson, Arlo. I modified it and included a few more masculine blocks than the original pattern included.

I designed the covered wagon block and added the dog, mittens, Steam Engine, bookshelf, and cat and mouse (which were my first paper piecing attempts) to represent the different stories from this series that he really liked. You can find pattern links to these blocks here You can find the original block patterns over at During Quiet Time.

What is your favorite part of quilting?  

Oh, that’s easy!  It’s the shopping!  I love looking at the fabric, the colors, and all the possibilities.  The challenge of finding the perfect fabric combinations is always fun.  I love cutting too! Even my dad has noticed when I am quilting over at my mom’s house that I like to do the cutting.

I have a stash of fabric, quilt books and patterns at each of my houses. I shall never run out of ideas to quilt or fabric to use. But somehow I still find myself back at the quilt shops looking at fabric because the color I have at home just isn’t right.

How many quilting projects do you have?

I have 10 projects that have started right now and in various stages.  

I have been collecting 1-1/2” squares of fabric for a Postage Stamp quilt.  The finished size will be 70”x 80”.  This means 5600 different fabrics! I have heard projects like this referred to as a sour dough quilt, just like making sour dough bread you have to let the starter sit for a few days and then stir it.  But I call this one “my back burner project” – it just sits there and every once in a while it needs to be stirred or a few squares cut and sewn together in this case. At this rate, it will probably take me 21 years to finish, too!

I have another 10 that I have the pattern and fabric selected and waiting to get started and another 10 or so UFO's that won't get finished - some were from classes that I took to learn a concept or technique.

I personally, get anxious if I have more than two, three max, going at one time... I would be a nervous wreck!  But that is just me... Karen seems to handle it just fine!

How many projects do you like to have going at one time?

Happy Quilting!



  1. Karen, it was fantastic to read more about you and the deep quilting roots in your family today!

  2. What a great read! So good that you two ladies have been able to meet. The completed quilts all look lovely, thank you for sharing :-)

    1. Thanks Allison. We've met twice and am looking forward to a third time soon.

    2. Thanks for stopping by Allison. It is my hope that our friendship will continue to grow. :)

  3. I loved reading this! And it came at a great time, I just met Karen and Mark in person last week. She is such a wonderful warm lady!

    1. Thanks Tish. It was fun meeting you and Dave too. But the time was all too short.

  4. Thanks, Melva for including me and my family in your Quilting through the Generations series.