By TIFFANY RONEY
Some basements are filled with Tupperware boxes of old photographs and knickknacks peppered with cobwebs. For a local woman, though, a basement is a place for reams of fabric, squares of cloth and a few handheld dolls with sketched faces.
“They keep me company when I’m down here quilting,” Laura Soelter said with a smile.
Soelter has created more than 30 quilts and won two local awards for her craft. She sews quilts for her twin 24-year-olds, Harrison and Amanda, as well as for hospice patients through the End of the Trail Quilt Guild.
Additionally, Soelter has created costumes like pirate coats and fairy dresses for the Renaissance Festival.
“It’s kind of slacked off since my kids have grown up,” Soelter said of the costume-making, “but I still have a basement full of them, and occasionally people borrow them.”
Quilting for her kids
Soelter graduated from University of Kansas with a degree in textile design and then worked for a French fabric store in Boston. After having Harrison and Amanda, she returned to her hometown of Abilene.
Amanda now serves as an English as a Second Language teacher in Omitama, Japan, and Harrison is using his culinary arts degree as a chef apprentice in Lawrence.
Soelter said her children are not only recipients of her quilts; they also play a role in the quilts’ creation.
“(Amanda) is usually my idea person,” Soelter said. “If I’m working on a quilt, I usually show it to her, and she says, ‘No, Mom, you need to do that color, or, ‘Mom, you need to do this.’ She’s my tester. She’s very creative. She’s good at picking out colors.”
Harrison has drawn designs to be magnified on his mother’s quilts. One piece he drew as part of a high school art class became an appliqué atop a knit technique that was new to Soelter at the time. She gave him the quilt for his apartment bredroom in Lawrence.
Nursing by day
Outside of sewing, Soelter pays the bills as an information technology nurse at Memorial Hospital. She also works as a pharmacy technician at Patterson Pharmacy. While neither job is particularly artistic, Soelter said she describes all her work – from her medical career to her quilting art – as “very creative.”
Her hospital coworker, Marcus Gann, also a quilter, gave her nine fat quarters of fabric he dyed by hand. One fat quarter is a
“He gave it to me to use, and I’m trying to find a design to use the fabric,” Soelter said. “That was really precious that he gave me that.”
Soelter said the most challenging part of her artwork is drawing the patterns. She does not use pre-made patterns, so she figures out the dimensions on graph paper. From there, she determines how much fabric to purchase and cut.
Stitch in time
Soelter became interested in sewing at age 8.
“My grandmother was a great sewer,” Soelter said. “I must take after her.”
When Soelter graduated from junior high, her two grandmothers got together and bought her a sewing machine, a Featherweight. Soelter said she still has the machine and uses it as a backup. In fact, the old-fashioned machine works better than her newer one for leather stitching.
Soon after receiving the sewing machine, she learned to make clothes. In college, she became a master weaver. She no longer spends time weaving.
“Quilting has completely taken over,” Soelter said. “If I can quilt 15 hours in a week, I’m happy.”
Though her two jobs may seem to take away time from her quilting passion, Soelter said it was actually one of her jobs that brought her into quilting in the first place.
“Actually, one of the aids at the hospital was retiring and somebody there said, ‘Oh, we should make her a quilt,’” Soelter said. “Everybody got a block, and you did whatever you wanted to on the block and it was so much fun. So then, I started making quilts from there.”
Soelter’s current project is a Civil War-era quilt that uses warm browns and blues to bring an antique feel.
“It was totally not my style,” Soelter said. “I guess (I’m making it) probably just to try something new.”
Soelter said she has not yet decided who will receive the work of art.
“We’ll find out,” Soelter said.