Ten years ago Sherry Wheeler walked into her first quilt guild meeting, found an unfinished small quilt of a hummingbird and instantly knew it was the guild she wanted to join. She’s been a member of the Columbia Falls Teakettle Quilt Guild ever since.
That hummingbird was serendipitous for Wheeler. She has a particular fondness for hummingbirds and a burgeoning collection of hummingbird plates and figurines, which began when she inherited her mother’s collection years ago.
“They’re such fascinating creatures,” said Wheeler, who has a half dozen feeders on her front deck. “They fly backwards, upside down, and their colors are so outstanding.”
Wheeler, who was born in Cut Bank, moved with her family to Kalispell when she was 4 for her father’s work as a telegrapher with Great Northern Railway. A 1962 graduate of Flathead County High School, she’s lived in the Flathead Valley since childhood. She retired four years ago after working for Northwest Imaging in Kalispell for 22 years.
About 15 years ago she decided to give quilting a try after her parents died and she felt she needed to fill the void in her life. She had sewn for her children when they were young and had a bin of material she thought she could use up.
A lifetime hobby was born.
She got started by going to boutiques, shop hops and retreats with an aunt, collecting material and swapping projects with other quilters.
She took an immediate liking to the Teakettle Guild, a group of about 85 quilters, because they did a lot of service projects.
“I like to make quilts and then give them away,” she said. “It makes you feel good.” Never in it for the money, Wheeler said whatever money she does make is reinvested in more material.
“I’ve asked God three times for an extension on my life because I have so much of it,” she joked.
Largely self-taught, Wheeler pieces and quilts all her own quilts. While many quilters do the piecing and pay to have a quilter finish them on a modern long-arm quilting machine with laser lighting, once Wheeler has finished her piecework she heads over to a good friend’s home who has an old-style long-arm quilter and does her own quilting on that machine.
She draws on her home environment for the themes in her craft. Wheeler’s 22-acre property west of Whitefish is home to lots of wildlife, from black and grizzly bears to moose and mountain lions. Tamarack Creek and the Stillwater River cross the property and she’s also spotted beavers and wild turkeys. In fact, the property originally belonged to her grandmother on her father’s side.
Wheeler’s daylight basement studio is flooded with natural light from a wall of windows. Her workbenches were hand-built by her husband using recycled doors. A cabinet that houses some of her folded fabric was built by her grandmother, who constructed it from wood scraps left over on the property after the original homestead was built. The treasured cabinet still has its original flour bin and oilcloth on the shelves.
Wheeler is a past vice president of Teakettle Quilt Guild and is currently the treasurer. She calls the guild her “quilting sisterhood” since she never had a sister of her own.
While being named the featured quilter for this year’s quilt show is quite an honor and a testament to her quilting skill, Wheeler is quick to say that it’s the fellowship and camaraderie that make quilting such a great hobby.
“It’s fun!” she said, admitting the retreats are also a nice break from having to think about cooking. “You meet new gals and see what everyone is working on. It’s like family.”
Featured quilters do have their work cut out for them, so to speak, Wheeler said. It forces them to return to and finish a number of unfinished projects to enhance their displays at the quilt shows. Wheeler’s been working to complete a number of them over the past year — and yes, one of them is that small hummingbird quilt piece she bought 10 years ago the first time she stepped up to the Teakettle Quilt Guild’s swap table.
“You know I’ve always thought it was funny my first husband didn’t think I had patience,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think you can be a quilter if you don’t have patience … maybe it taught me.”
Entertainment Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or email@example.com.