Nobody knows exactly how many quilts one 100-year-old Chilliwack woman has made, but it is a lot.
“We figure she’s made over 1,000 quilts,” said Barb Schmidt of quilter Anne Schaefer.
The two are both with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Chilliwack and for decades Schaefer has made quilts for charity.
And she’s still at it.
Schaefer doesn’t quite know when she started quilting but it was sometime after arriving in Chilliwack in 1952. She’s been with the church for 70 years.
“It’s been a long time,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of quilts. I couldn’t tell you if it was 60 or 160 (per year).”
The “we” she speaks of is the St. Paul’s Quilters, a group she started at the church some time after 1964. They’d meet once a week, bringing a bagged lunch to the basement of the church where the group of about half a dozen women would gather to quilt for hours.
All of the quilts are donated to charity.
Up until about four years ago, the vast majority of quilts would be packaged up like bales of hay and sent overseas to Lutheran World Relief for refugee camps.
Now the quilts stay in B.C. and go to places like Wagner Hills Farm Society (to their two addiction treatment centres in Langley), The Village in Chilliwack (which has two affordable housing programs: one transitional program for youth 16 to 18, and another permanent housing for adults living with mental illness), and to Cyrus Centre, Ruth and Naomi’s, and Ann Davis Transition Society as needed.
From day one, Schaefer has been the boss of the group.
“Anne was the most integral part,” said fellow quilter Donna Little.
Schaefer’s always the one who wants to keep quilting when the others are ready to pack up and go home. She’s fast and picks up on all the fine things one needs to watch for when making a quilt, like ensuring all the pieces line up perfectly.
On the day The Progress came to visit her, she observed a quilt set out on a table in the basement of the church.
“This is going to be a nice quilt. You’ve got the proper colours to go with it,” she said to Little. “Look at how good you’ve got the points – very well done here.”
It got Schaefer’s seal of approval.
The group is just starting to get back together in-person following the pandemic, but over the past two years Schaefer has still been working on quilts from home. Little would bring her a section to work on, Schaefer would finish it and before she knew it there would be another one to work on.
“She hand-quilts very quickly,” Little said.
“It’s like with every job, whatever you do a lot, you improve,” Schaefer said.
All of the fabric is donated to the church and the group does a bit of fundraising to pay for the batting – the fluffy padding inside the quilts.
But after all these decades of sewing quilts, Schaefer hasn’t ever – not once – made one for herself.
“I don’t know. I didn’t need one and I was busy making (quilts for others) so I guess it never occurred to me I should have one,” she said. “It’s not my stuff. It doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the church so wherever it goes, it goes.”
Little and Schmidt agree that Schaefer is a pretty remarkable woman.
At the age of 16, she delivered a baby in the middle of a snowstorm in Saskatchewan.
It was the pastor’s wife who was pregnant with twins. The pastor got called away and so he called on Schaefer’s family and asked for someone to come and to watch his wife in case she went into labour. Sure enough, she did.
It was midnight on St. Patrick’s Day and there she was helping deliver the first baby.
“I had no choice,” she said. “The midwife didn’t get there on time.”
Soon the doctor and midwife arrived.
“I had the privilege of tying the cord and cutting it,” she said proudly.
Schaefer had 11 brothers and sisters and she was the eighth child in her family.
“I’m the only one left,” she said.
Her friends at St. Paul’s church celebrated her 100th birthday (which fell on Nov. 14) on Nov. 20. It was suggested that she must be doing something right for her to have celebrated her centennial birthday.
“It’s not so much that I’m doing something right, somebody else is doing something wrong,” she said with a laugh.