WAPELLA — Alyce Karr has spent the last 36 years away from her childhood home in Wapella, so while her desire to reconnect with her 18 siblings is understandable, it has been difficult, since she moved to Vancouver, British Columbia.
But she bonded with her family in the form of friendship quilts. Ten of them.
Five years and several bolts of material after they started the project, the nine Karr sisters have produced eight quilts, with the final pair nearing completion. That total includes one for each sister and another for their mom, Rozanne Karr, 86, who still lives in the family home near Wapella.
The quilts come in various sizes and configurations, but all have one square from each sister.
“We’re a pretty close family; we get together regularly,” said Dottie Anderson of Springfield, sister No. 4 and child No. 10 of the 19 siblings. “But there are just so many people. You don’t get a chance to just sit and chat. So this was nice for us. We went to lunch together, and we went shopping together.”
The sisters give credit to Alyce for getting the quilts off the ground and agree the task would not have been completed without her dogged persistence, which included two-week trips to Illinois each year since 2005.
“I’m one who doesn’t sew, doesn’t have any creative talent whatsoever as far as sewing,” said Amy Nixon, the youngest child. “But Alyce came and designed it with me. I had ideas, and she helped me come up with a design, and showed me applique.”
“It would pretty much be on hold when she wasn’t here,” said Elizabeth Cunningham of Weldon, No. 17. “Then she’d come and we’d get going again. We’d have quilting bees, then she’d leave and we’d be on hold again.”
Alyce and Elizabeth have the most quilting experience, but Elizabeth’s version remains incomplete.
“Mom told us when we started this, ‘I’m going to be dead before you finish.’ So I’m taking as long as I can,” she chuckled.
After five years of quilting, did Rozanne think her daughters would ever get to this point?
“I was beginning to wonder,” she said.
If there were eight or 10 sisters, the quilts would have been even more difficult. But nine forms an ideal quilt pattern of three squares across and three down, according to Alyce.
“It was lucky that there were nine of us, as it is a common number in quilting,” she said. “For this reason, I thought that having a quilt with nine blocks from nine sisters would work very well.”
Each sister had to come up with her own theme and produce 10 identical blocks. To tie it all together, each square was required to include a heart. The themes ranged from Amy’s shamrock (she had just returned from Ireland when the project began), to Peggy Tippet’s origami-inspired geometric pattern, to a tree with nine hearts representing nine sisters, to a couple with Bible verses such as “love never fails.”
The Karr sisters have acquired their share of stories as a result of the project. Elizabeth’s favorite is the time she was quilting with Dottie under the watchful eye of Alyce.
“She (Dottie) was concentrating very hard, and she was being very quiet, and all of a sudden she gasped and said, ‘I forgot to breathe!’ ” Elizabeth said.
Dottie responded with, “You do this because you think it is relaxing?”
But she came around, eventually.
“When I retire in four years and seven months, I’m going to start quilting!” Dottie said.