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Waupaca on space quilt

Just by chance while touring the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY, Char Heger came across star-themed quilt blocks made by Waupaca children in 2014. It was a NASA project to make astronomical quilts. The Waupaca Library organized a summer program to make the blocks. Submitted Photo

From outer space to Paducah

By James Card

In 2013, NASA flight engineer Karen Nyberg invited crafters to help her stitch together a global community space quilt.

A passionate quilter and sewer, Nyberg was filmed stitching a star-shaped pattern in zero gravity on the International Space Station. The deadline for sending in a star-themed quilt block was Aug. 1, 2014.

In the summer of 2104, the reading program at the Waupaca Area Public Library was Fizz, Boom, Read! It was a science-based theme and children gathered for Story Time from Space, where an astronaut at the space station reads a children’s book and the broadcast is beamed down for earthlings to watch.

The library staff learned of the space quilt project. They rounded up sewing machines and volunteer quilters helped children create star-themed blocks. Some wrote their names on the quilt block and where it was from.

Approximately 30 blocks were submitted to NASA before the deadline and then the summer ended.

“We never heard a thing from NASA. I forgot all about it. We moved onto the next thing,” said Sue Abrahamson, the children’s librarian at the time.

Decade later

In early May of this year, Char Heger was in Paducah, Kentuky, touring the National Quilt Museum, the nation’s premier museum for contemporary quilting.

The finest quilts of the word are featured here. Some are so intricate they have a photographic or three-dimensional quality. Many look like paintings.

One quilt stood out to Heger because it was a mundane-looking block quilt. Then on one of the blocks she noticed the words: Waupaca. They were the same blocks she helped children make in the summer program.

“Here was a Waupaca one, there was a Waupaca one. To go from here, to Houston and to Paducah and what would be the odds that I would be in Paducah at that time?” said Heger, noting the exhibits are temporary.

“Oh my gosh,” she said as she found one and another and another. She attracted the attention of two men standing nearby looking at another quilt.

“Our library did this. I’m from Waupaca, Wisconsin,” said Heger. “This is my grandson’s [block]. It went to Houston and here to Paducah.”
They replied back that it was an impressive feat and kudos to the library for doing such a project.

Nyberg’s exhibit of space quilts, “The Stars are Aligned,” will be shown at the museum until July 30. There are five quilts on display and two have been never seen before.

“Then she called me and could hardly speak she was so excited,” said Jeanne Bootz, another volunteer quilter who helped make the blocks 10 years ago. Bootz remembered a small child sitting on her lap before a sewing machine and making a block. It was very slow.

“Stitch . . . stitch . . . stitch. I thought we’re going to be here until next week. But we got it,” Bootz said.

Heger remembers working the foot pedal. “Otherwise a lot of fingers would have been sewed,” she said.

When Nyberg came back from space, more than 2,200 blocks were submitted from around the world. She assembled all of them into 30 72-inch by 90-inch wall-sized quilts.

Of these quilts, Heger confirmed five or six made-in-Waupaca blocks were included in two quilts on display. There could be more blocks of Waupaca origin making up the other quilts.

“Five of the thirty quilts were in Paducah. We don’t know if other Waupaca ones could be on those other quilts.”

The summer of 2014 wasn’t the only time the library rounded up sewing machines for a project. “We did a project where we made an apron out of a men’s shirt. All kinds of people came in with shirts of people they love and shirts from their past. It was really cool,” said former library director Peg Burington.

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