The process is just as important as the product

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The story behind the Mennonite quilts sold at the MCC sale

The relief sale for the Mennonite Central Committee happens on the Fresno Pacific campus every April. As part of the sale donated quilts are auctioned off, an activity that often raising from $100 to over $5,000. The auction is known as one of the events that raises the most funds at the sale.

What not everyone knows, though, is the process of making the quilts.

“The process is just as important as the product,” Lori Esau, quilt chair of West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale and Auction, said.

According to Esau, quilting in Mennonite culture is about more than the quilt itself. It’s about women sitting down together and sharing their life stories and experiences.

“It brought women together … young women would sit across from an older woman and they would talk, and share and give wisdom about life. Even now I sit across women in their 90s, and I am made richer by sitting behind the quilt and sitting across from them,” Esau said.

Women are not the only ones always involved in the process. “Actually, there are some husband and wife teams that work on quilts … sometimes he does the cutting and she does the sewing,” Esau said.

The process of making these quilts is not done over a single night – or even a couple of months. The average time can range from up to two years depending on the size of the quilt, the amount of time dedicated to it and whether the women are working collectively or individually.

“I have done one before, and it took me a year. It’s just a very slow process and you want to do it well,” Esau said.

Women from all over California, and some from out of state, donate quilts to be auctioned. They spend more than just their time, effort and hands to get the job done.

“The women who donate these quilts spend their own money on fabric and their own money for batting. Some of them are sending it from somewhere, so they are donating their postage,” Esau said.

The making of a quilt requires different components that must be sewn together in order to have one cohesive fabric. The quilter must have a pattern in mind, and all the necessary tools and material in order to begin the quilting. The direction of the quilt can then go in multiple ways. Some of the different types depend on the process when tying the materials together.

Hand quilting, or sowing by hand, is the most traditional form of quilting but is also the longest. One can also use a long-arm machine quilter. This machine, though expensive, can even make stitches throughout the quilt.

A more modern form of quilting showcased at the MCC Sale is called prairie quilting. It is similar to traditional quilting and is done by hand, but the stitching is bigger and more colorful so as to become a part of the work instead of being hidden.

The quilts the women donate continue to be an integral part of the MCC sale.  “The money that we raise, such as the net proceeds, go towards the Mennonite Central Committee,” Steve Goossen, chairman of West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale and Auction, said, “it really is a great thing, not just for the purpose, but for what it does for the community. It brings in alumni and the rest of the community to participate in a great cause.”  

Next year will be the MCC sale’s 53rd anniversary, and we expect it to continue for many years to come.

“I have been participating and attending for over 50 years or so. It’s incredible to see how much it has grown, and how it continues to be such a success … It is just really great seeing the community come together and give back for a good cause,” Kevin Friesen, auction chairman of West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale and Auction, said.