Photo by Judy Fitzmaurice.
Originally published March 12, 2009
Betty Leininger learned to sew as a young girl but it wasn't until recently that she took up the art of making yarn-tied quilts. And once she started, there was no stopping this 85-year-old rural Yoder resident.
Leininger picked up the hobby when she joined a group of women at her church who were making the blankets. But over time, the group dwindled to just a handful of people and Leininger was having difficulty seeing at the church, so she decided to exit the group and continue her stitching at home.
Since that time - around Christmas 2007 - Leininger has made over 100 blankets with the help of her daughters, Arlene Gallmeyer and Janice Leininger. Many of the warm and comforting quilts go to family members, but several made their way into Huntington and were donated to Huntington County Right To Life.
"I saw an article in The TAB and she (Betty) said they'd be great for the kids," Gallmeyer recalls.
"Forty of them (the quilts) went to Right To Life," Betty Leininger adds.
And Huntington County Right To Life was happy to be on the receiving end of the gifts, says Pat Bickel, office manager and Board member of RTL.
"Some months back, letters went out to all the (local) churches and I sent Letters to the Editor to the TAB and Herald-Press," Bickel notes. "The TAB wanted to cover it as a story. Arlene read the article and she came in with about 36 blankets" wondering if the organization could use them.
"I said, ‘Oh that would be wonderful."
The quilts were given out to some special children during the holidays along with other gifts from Right To Life.
"We gave most of them away to children through our Christmas Care & Share Program," whose names come by way of Love I.N.C., Bickel says. The only youngsters who didn't get one of Leininger's blankets were infants "who got hand-crocheted afghans," she adds.
Leininger was pleased that her blankets would be warming and comforting little ones, especially at the holidays.
"It worked out well for the children," she relates.
The process of making the yarn-tied blankets begins with a trip to the fabric store, where Leininger selects her material. Each quilt requires a yard-and-a-half of fabric for the top, flannel for the backing, and batting that goes in between the layers. She also selects yarn that will accent each quilt.
Most of Leininger's quilts are made with children in mind, so she concentrates on finding material little ones would find appealing - bright colors and pastels, and characters children can relate to like trucks and tractors for boys or ponies and princesses for girls.
"It depends what's on TV," Gallmeyer says, adding the fabric stores' selection of children's material usually mirrors characters of children's television programs.
Leininger has the fabric store cut the material to the appropriate length but she and her daughters cut the batting, which they buy by the roll. Most quilts are about 40 inches wide - the average width of a bolt of material.
Leininger has a table in her living room that is just the right size for her projects and a nearby floor lamp provides just the right amount of light. She sets the three layers of the soon-to-be quilt on the table, and then begins the process of marking where the knots will be.
"I use a yardstick," she says. "I lay it down, then I put pins in under the yardstick 3 inches apart." Rows are spaced 3 to 4 inches apart, she adds. "I do a lot of feeling with my fingers - measuring, pinning, stitching."
Her daughters prepare the five needles Leininger uses for her quilts so she can work on them whenever she feels like it. They also put on the finishing touches.
"We try to keep them full for her," Gallmeyer says of the needles.
"We thread them (the needles), and we hem them (the quilts)," Janice Leininger adds.
Betty Leininger uses a running stitch, going across the fabric as far as the length of yarn will allow.
"I stitch all the way down, one row at a time," she says.
Then she goes back and snips the yarn at the first pin, tightly ties the knot, then moves on to the next pin. When she gets to the end of the row, she looks it over to make sure it's straight.
"If it looks crooked, I take it out and do it over," she says.
Leininger usually doesn't take longer than a couple of days to complete a quilt.
"I do it in two days if I take my time with it but I can do it in a day and a half," she notes. She normally likes to work for a while, take a little break, then come back and work some more.
Once the weather warms up a little more, Leininger will be spending less time quilting and more time outdoors.
"I'm a person who can't just sit around," she says. "This (quilting) keeps me busy until summertime, then I'll be outside walking."
Leininger and the girls plan to call Huntington County Right To Life later this year to see if they'd like more of the blankets.
"We'll call Huntington this fall and at Christmas and see if they want some," Gallmeyer says.
In the meantime, Leininger will continue to make quilts, which are in high demand within her own family. She's got four daughters, six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, and extended family in the area that includes her brother, Virgyle Hougendobler, and nephew, Dr. Duane Hougendobler.
"Anyone that wants one gets one," she says of family members.