Stitching together a competitive record

A quilter's intricate creation wins second place in two contests


Karen Luman's son Jonathan and his wife, Amy, have been waiting three years for their wedding gift.

Luman, of Columbia, made the couple a bold red-and-black quilt with 44 fabrics in a complicated pattern of triangles and diamonds. It had thousands of stitches set by hand in lines, hearts and feather patterns.

But the quilt was so nice, it ended up traveling to competitions instead of to its intended recipients in St. Louis.

After years of quilting for herself, friends and family, Luman has stepped successfully into the world of juried quilt shows.

The wedding quilt, named "Hearts' Desire," placed second in the traditional pieced category at Luman's first national show in 2004 in Pennsylvania. This fall, the quilt placed second in that category at the International Quilt Association show in Houston.

"I didn't know that I was competitive," Luman said. "But it was very exciting. ... It turned out that I had more skill than I knew that I had."

Luman said she was interested in needlecrafts as a child and knit her first scarf in elementary school. When she was a teenager, her mother taught her to sew, and Luman made many of her own clothes.

She started to become interested in quilting after she was married and had four children. Finally, after seeing quilts in a friend's home, she said she decided "the only way I'll have them is to make them."

Although she was accomplished with a needle, she said, a class helped her learn the terminology and jump-start her creativity. Now, she said, quilting is her preferred craft.

"Working with a needle and thread is therapeutic to me," she said. "It's soothing."

Luman, a retired nurse who volunteers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said her favorite month is January, when the cold weather and post-holiday slow-down allow her to quilt for several hours each day.

"I like sitting here in the winter under my quilt," she said from a chair next to her fireplace with her latest creation in her lap: a quilt in a double wedding ring pattern for her husband using fabric printed with pictures of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

Luman said she uses her sewing machine to piece the top of the quilt together. She gets patterns from magazines and books, although she has developed some of her own as well. She chooses the colors and determines which fabrics to use.

As she works on individual sections - called blocks - she hangs them on the wall so she can see how the whole project is coming together.

After it is sewed into one large piece, the top is layered with the batting (the fluffy filling) and a bottom piece of fabric. The quilting takes place when stitches are made through the three layers to hold them together.

Machine quilting has become popular in recent years, but Luman said she prefers to hand-quilt, using a small, round hoop to hold one piece of the quilt taut at a time.

Quilters strive to make the stitches as even as possible, said Shirley Carey, president of the Milltown Quilters guild in Howard County, of which Luman is a member. And, Carey said, long-time quilters pride themselves on making those stitches small.

Carey said that in "Hearts' Desire," Luman used fabric in all shades of black from very dark to gray. "That's what gives it the depth, and the same is true for the red," Carey said. "Every time you look at it you see more."

Members of the guild - which holds a show every two years - encouraged Luman to enter her first contest.

"I was thinking I could never enter," she said. "I know all the mistakes that are in [the quilt]."

But she said she enjoyed seeing her quilt in the two shows, and "it is really exciting to see what other people are doing, how they put them together."

Luman said she makes, on average, one large and one small quilt each year, and she usually has several quilts in the works at one time.

She said she has been "musing" on her next contest entry for a couple of years: a red-and-white quilt in a double wedding ring pattern with Christian imagery in the stitching.

And, she wants to work on a gift for her son Phil, who just announced his engagement.

"They'll get it for their fifth anniversary," she said. "It could be that long. Hopefully, it won't be."

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