Karen Sherwood is a striking woman with a bright welcoming smile, gentle composure and incredible strength. Most canyonites know her for her continual service to the unfortunate through her work with the Topanga Women’s Circle. You will often see her on Saturdays climbing in and out of the TWC donation bin at Pine Tree Circle, accepting offerings for hardship victims ready for re-entry. She also distributes and sets up furnishings for the bare-bones abodes that the newly emancipated vets and families will occupy.
Few know that Karen has had a secret passion. Some years ago, while visiting her mom in Indiana, she saw a finished quilt depicting all the state birds and flowers of every state in the entire United States, the last project ever embroidered by a woman who was going blind. “It just blew me away and I knew right away that I wanted to make that quilt!”
Karen’s mom had taught her the basic embroidery stitches when she was in her teens and she had experimented with pillow cases, flowers on collars and other somewhat simplistic designs, but she had never attempted anything as challenging or complicated as this undertaking was going to be. But as she said, “I was not one to start something and not finish it.”
And so, for the next 8 years, whenever she made one of her frequent visits to see her mom, Karen would endeavor to embroider the state bird, flower and name of each of the 50 states on a diamond shaped, diagonally seamed quilting patch. This is a feat in itself as it means stitching contrary to the run of the threads in the cloth. Karen persisted and early last year she finished off the last swatch. Now she had to determine how to put the quilt together. That’s when she decided to call on her mother’s Amish friends.
It seems that there is an Amish community in La Grange County, Indiana, and for more than forty years one of the Amish families would come to help Karen’s mom around the house. The men would chop wood and the women would help with housekeeping. They were a family with eleven kids and as the younger ones grew they would take over. Karen’s mom would buy eggs and vegetables from them. The women were really fond of her mom and they loved that Karen came from Minneapolis and they talked about lifestyles together and shared about themselves.
When Karen spoke to them about her how-to concerns for patching the quilt together, they were quick to offer their help and expertise. About eight women worked on it, interstitching a heart-and-star pattern throughout, then adding a beautiful green liner and scalloped edge to the lovely queen-sized finished project. The beautiful work by Karen and her Amish friends is truly a vision to behold!
Finally finished, Karen had to decide whom to give it to. She has seven grandchildren and decided to offer it as a wedding gift to the first granddaughter to marry. This past Christmas her eldest granddaughter became engaged and the wedding will take place next spring so the beautiful quilt will go to her with the following inscription on the back of a corner scallop, “Warm Wishes on your Wedding Day. This quilt was designed and embroidered by Karen Mary Sherwood, (nee) Devitt, of Topanga, California. It is a gift for my granddaughter Emily Margaret Winter. I began working on it in 2009. It was completed in 2017. The hand quilting and finishing by dear Amish friends, the Bontrager’s, from La Grange, Indiana.”
Topangans may view the quilt, which will be on display at the Topanga Library from July 9 to August 15. A reception for the artist will take place on Sunday, July16 from 2–4 p.m. The Amish friends will be visiting Karen during July and will have an opportunity to see their work on exhibit.
What’s next on Karen’s project list? She has been playing with adult coloring for years and is designing another quilt which will reflect her collection of colored images. We can look forward to seeing that in, say, another eight years!
By Lee Kelly