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Published April 02, 2009, 09:04 AM

A love of quilting takes rural resident to bluegrass state

Next week thousands of handcrafting enthusiasts from around the world will gather in Paducah, Ky., to take part in the American Quilting Society’s annual quilt show and contest.

By: Vera Roy-Stoeberl, River Falls Journal

Next week thousands of handcrafting enthusiasts from around the world will gather in Paducah, Ky., to take part in the American Quilting Society’s annual quilt show and contest.

Town of Kinnickinnic resident Mary Roen will be there, too — for the 20th time.

This year’s trip out east, however, will be more memorable for Roen than all the rest. For the first time, a quilt that took hundreds of hours over three years to complete has been accepted by the AQS’s juried competition officials.

That means her double-bed-sized quilt, named “Grace,” will be displayed at the show and be judged in one of the 16 categories of the contest. It will stand on its own against other quilts submitted by quilters from almost all 50 states and from over 12 countries. And it could be judged “Best of Show,” the highest prize.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Roen about the honor. She says the reality that her quilt has actually been accepted hasn’t truly hit her yet. “It probably will hit after I pack (the quilt) up and ship it out.”

The 56-year-old Roen got her first “taste” of quilting when she helped her mother work on various projects back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. But it wasn’t until 1987 when Roen attended a church camp retreat that she “…really got hooked,” she said. During that retreat she was able to complete the top of a quilt after learning a few more tips and techniques. And she’s been quilting ever since.

According to Roen, there are so many reasons to make quilts.

“They add warmth and are so cozy and can make a room so much more homey,” said Roen. “I even made a quilt once to hang in a room where I work that was too noisy. The quilt worked to absorb all the noise.

“Quilting is so relaxing. It really helps to clear my head after a hard day at work.”

Roen is an RN and works for colon and rectal surgeons in the Twin Cities.

But at the same time, Roen says, quilting can be challenging.

“I’m always trying to teach myself something new” about the craft, she said.

Quilts can be used to give as gifts for special occasions, Roen noted. They can also make a statement, as has been seen with the AIDS Memorial Quilt — a patchwork of thousands of blocks of fabric personalized and contributed by people affected by or living with AIDS started several years ago that has toured the United States. As of November 2008, the AIDS quilt has grown to over 5,789 12” by 12” blocks.

Besides learning basic techniques from her mother and more at church quilting retreats she’s attended, Roen’s acquired more skills at quilt show workshops, and from magazines and books.

“I read my magazines from cover to cover,” says Roen. Her favorite is Quilter’s Newsletter.

Some techniques she’s taught herself just by working at the craft all these years.

Attending the Paducah quilt show has been one of her favorite trips all these two decades, Roen says. She’s always shared the trip with her mother and sister.

The three women started out spending just two days in Paducah, said Roen. More recently they’ve been spending an entire week.

“You walk in (the large convention site) and go, ‘Oh, my,’” Roen said. “We talk quilting all day and never get bored. It’s an internationally known event. The city even has a quilting TV show that runs from 6 o’clock in the morning until midnight!”

Roen continued to share her enthusiasm about the event.

“It’s just amazing and it’s phenomenal. So many people will just stand and stare at the (hanging) quilts. Some of them are unbelievable. You look at some of them and say, ‘How did they do that?’”

It was at one of those shows Roen remembers her mother saying, “One of you girls has to get a quilt in one of these shows.” And now Roen is happy to see her mother’s wish, and hers as well, come true.

After beginning, then finishing different quilts in the recent past, Roen would ask herself, “Can I make this one good enough to go to Kentucky?”

It wasn’t until she finished working on “Grace,” which was named by her husband, Terry Roen, owner of River Falls’ Roen Ford auto dealership, and after receiving encouragement from her friends and family that Roen said, “This one is good enough.” And she was right.

Those quilts that are declared winners in the 16 contest categories are not returned to their creators. Instead they are sent to the National Quilters Museum, also located in Paducah.

Roen is prepared to part with her quilt, but says, “I have no aspirations that mine will go there,” said the modest Roen.

Whether Roen’s “Grace” wins or not, the talented crafter will continue her handiwork. She and Terry are expecting their first grandchild in June. And that little one will need — what else? — but a warm and cozy quilt to be wrapped in made by his or her proud grandmother, “made by the hand, but given by the heart,” said Roen.

A word of advice Roen wants to share with aspiring quilters: “I’d want anybody who’s interested (in quilting) to try it. Everyone has to start somewhere and no one should be afraid of trying it.”

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