The rhythmic beat of a needle piercing fabric keeps perfect time with the mechanical hum of a commercial quilting machine. Knowing hands gently guide the fabric to make sure the backing, batting, and quilt top stay aligned. The process is mesmerizing and soothing—“hypnotic,” as Arlean Rosemore, the master quilter currently behind the needle at Mother Originals Quilt Shop in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, puts it.
What, to some, may seem like a daunting blend of colorful fabrics, sharp needles, miles of thread, and puzzle work is old hat for Rosemore. From the time she was 15 years old, the Pequot Lakes resident has been using her experience and trained eye to create one-of-a-kind quilts for her family, clients, and charity. To date, she has won more than 250 ribbons for her hand-stitched masterpieces.
Now 81, Rosemore has no intention of slowing down. Six days a week she can be found laughing with customers and imparting her wisdom at Mother Originals Quilt Shop, the shop her daughter, Mary Hammer, owns. She isn’t just there to chat, though: more often than not, Rosemore is also manning the long-arm quilting machine or rocking the pedal of her prized 1914 Singer, her sparkling personality, sharp wit, and passion for her craft more than evident to everyone there to stock up on supplies or get some advice.
Quilts are as diverse as the people who make them. When asked what inspires her designs, Rosemore says she favors a blend of traditional techniques married with modern fabrics and textures. “I have deep respect for how our older generations assembled their quilts,” she says. “Much of what they used was what they had on hand: scraps of old clothing, sugar sacks, and, the most popular choice, patterned flour sacks.”
The practice of repurposing flour sacks as clothing and quilt blocks reached its height during the Great Depression. Typical bags during this era were standard white, but when flour manufacturers saw women turning them into clothing, diapers, and dishcloths, the savvier ones started choosing more appealing patterns. Rosemore not only recalls these tough years during her childhood, but actively engages with the time period: she’s been an avid collector of the vintage sacks for years, and currently owns the largest collection in Minnesota—about 1,200 in total.
“The patterns and designs on these flour sacks are so beautiful,” she remarks while lovingly running her hand over numerous carefully folded piles in her home. “Some of the more vibrant and fragile pieces I display in clear Plexiglas cases to preserve them better. They are not only pretty decor for my home, they are a reminder of our country’s history as well.”
Another significant period in quilting history came after World War II, when quilting was looked down upon and considered an activity reserved for only the very poor, Rosemore says. “After the war, homemade things were not valued. But now I am pleased to say that quilting has become an art form. And as long as I am able to sew, it will be my passion and mission to show other people just how amazing this art form is.”
The vintage textiles she surrounds herself with inspire what Rosemore dubs the “Arlean Rosemore style”: namely, the mixing of unorthodox patterns, time periods, and colors in quilts, using everything from modern fabric to scraps of old dish towels to childhood clothing. “I learned to quilt long before I knew there were any rules!” she says with a chuckle. “I guess you could say that this mix of fabrics is my signature style; I love how some of these quilt blocks have a story to tell as well.”
In her designated quilt room, Rosemore proudly displays some ribbons her four children and eight grandchildren have won over the years for their own quilts, as well as dozens of her own breathtaking finished pieces. Impressive hand-stitched quilts depict life-sized iconic board games like chess, checkers, Sorry!, Monopoly, and Risk. A 10-by-11-foot Candyland quilt took her over 2,000 hours to complete, and comes complete with several custom 18-inch Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls as playing pieces.
Nestled among the stacks of quilts are also examples of Rosemore’s deep commitment to giving back to her community and those in need. A neatly folded pile of handmade tote bags will soon be donated to Brainerd’s Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center. Sitting next to them is another stack of smaller quilts ready to go to the Quilts for Kids initiative. In all, the Rosemore family gives away more than 200 pillows, 250 tote bags, and 300 quilts every year.
But some creations never leave the safety of Rosemore’s home, much less their display cases. One such prized possession is the quilt she made for her father, which incorporates his vintage key collection. Named “Every Key Has a Story,” it’s a perfect example of how Rosemore uses her craft to honor family memories.
As unique as the quilts she creates, Rosemore unabashedly displays her love of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” throughout her home, including a life-sized R2-D2 model in her bedroom. She also takes pride in the fact that, 52 years after dropping out of high school to work on her family’s farm, she returned to school and earned her GED at the age of 73. “As part of [getting] my GED I was asked to write two essays. One was titled, ‘How to Succeed in Life Without a High School Diploma!’” she giggles.
Rosemore’s sense of humor is also evident in her two books, “Whimsical Witticisms” and “A Small Town is Like a Large Family.” She is currently working a third book, “The Heritage Quilt,” which will serve as a written and photographic record of her family’s quilts and stories. As family is the main thing that inspires and drives everything Rosemore does, including quilting, it only seems appropriate.
“I’ve enjoyed a wonderful life these last 80-plus years,” she says while scanning a wall full of artifacts and photos. “There were plenty of hard times as well. But quilting always got me through those dark spots in life. I know I am lucky to be able to find comfort and strength in my craft. My mind is already brainstorming on the next quilt long before the one I’m working on is done.”