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Cut from the same cloth

Every Thursday afternoon the Wadena United Methodist Church Cut-Ups gather in the basement dining room for stitching, cutting and coffee.

"We're a very close-knit group," said Ellen Spear, group leader.

The age 60-plus ladies are knitted in purpose and friendship, but quilting is the Cut-Ups' chosen form of textile work.

Every member has a job to do and they take their work seriously -- most of the time anyway.

"She's the boss," said Marilyn Cain indicating a chuckling Lillian Swenson, group leader. "She's a good boss. I kind of do what I want. Kind of keep track of the supplies."

The Cut-Ups comment that Cain's main job is to order the quilt batting.

"I'm the old bat," Cain quipped, eliciting peals of laughter.

"You said that, we didn't," replied a chorus of Cut-Ups.

"Well, I knew somebody was thinking it," Cain deadpanned in her defense.

Although the ladies enjoy "goofing off," Spear said, they also take pride in the work they accomplish, their ministry to the community and their support of one another.

"We're very proud of our group," said long-time quilter Maxine Brown. "Because we really do make some beautiful things."

The quilt makers distribute their handiwork to Fair Oaks Lodge residents, the Wadena Crisis Pregnancy Center, the Salvation Army, the Wadena Pioneer Journal Empty Stocking Fund, shut-ins and anyone in the area that has a fire or disaster. Their latest project is to give a quilt to new babies in their congregation.

The ladies define themselves as a local mission group.

"And of course we have fellowship and connection with the people within the community and church because of it," Swenson said. "At the same time we're doing something useful."

Lucille Leider first organized the group at United Methodist 10 years ago as way to use leftover colorful garments from the church's rummage sales.

"We said 'gee we could make some pretty quilts,'" said quilter Lorraine Taggart. "And that's how it all evolved."

The congregation liberally provides materials now, but Swenson said the cloth choices were meager in the beginning.

"When the rummage sale was over, we'd go through and pull out clothes that hadn't sold and that's what we'd cut up for squares," Swenson said, laughing. "Some were pretty thin. But as time went on and word of mouth got out, people became very generous with helping us."

The Cut-Ups receive fabric scraps featuring an endless variety of patterns in a rainbow of colors. Swenson said the ladies get very creative when designing the quilts.

"We do with what we have," she said. "You're not picking out coordinates like you do if you go to the store."

Swenson grew up as the oldest of eight children during the Great Depression, and she "can't bear to see anything go to waste," she said. She even stitches together scraps of batting to pad the quilts.

"To know that it's appreciated, to know that you're helping someone, you can't explain the good feeling," Swenson said about her involvement in the group. "Things that would normally go to waste are being put to use. Because how many of these scraps of fabric lay in somebody's drawer, in a bag in their home and they have no use for it."

While the Cut-Ups love making their quilts, they find the most joy in giving their handiwork away.

"It's immeasurable," Brown said about the rewards of giving. "It's fantastic. It's just a good feeling."

The recipients also respond positively to the gifts, said the Cut-Ups.

"I think everyone is happy with them," quilter Naomi Brust said.

Spear recalled some memorable experiences of giving the quilts away.

"Naomi and I went to visit someone in the hospital," she said. "They were really depressed. [It was] a bad time for her."

Brust added, "It meant so much to her, she cried."

The gifts have even touched members of the Cut-Ups' own families.

Spear said when the group first started they visited Swenson's husband in Shady Lane Nursing Home.

"I remember once was his birthday and ... a group of us quilters went out there and we took quilts for him and several others," Spear said. "We had cookies and coffee [and] we had a party."

The gifts of quilts can serve many purposes, Swenson said.

"We do these things so spontaneously we don't even think about it," Brown said. "We'll be sitting around having coffee and somebody will bring up somebody's name that maybe should have a quilt."

While crafting colorful quilts is the main mission for the Cut-Ups, forming friendships also rates high on their agenda.

Sharing the journey of growing older is a common bond.

"We're all getting to the spot where we all have lots of aches and pains and we don't produce as well as we should," Swenson said with a laugh.

A slower pace of production, however, allows time for more communication and camaraderie.

"It's very important," Brown said about the fellowship she shares with the Cut-Ups. "For me, it's just companionship. I know that they'll always be here in case something happened to me. This is what I feel about this sewing group."

Swenson shared similar sentiments.

"I think it's a place you can go and express your feelings and not have to tread so gently," she said. "You know some places you have to be so cautious what you say and do. And this is ... where everybody is sort of loose."

Quilter Jeannette Pierce agreed: "It's a wonderful project."

According to most of the ladies, though, the best part of their quilting session comes when the needles are returned to their pin cushions, the scissors are laid down and the yarn is rolled up.

"We quilt and we work until it's coffee time," Brown said. "That's always the most fun."

After all, coffee and bars are an important part of fellowship for Minnesota church ladies.

"It's a fun group, and coffee always goes with it," Taggart said. "[There's] nothing better."