By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN In 1942, 22-year-old Jean Hendricks set out to make her first quilt, a hand-stitched flower pattern made from colorful scraps.
Little did she realize, however, that the quilt’s finishing touches wouldn’t come until nearly 60 years later.
It all started when Hendricks, who now lives at the Legacy of Delano, met Ray Hendricks. They were both in high school in Owatonna at the time.
“His parents rented the house right next to ours,” she said.
When they first met, Hendricks never dreamed that she would someday be his wife.
“He was so particular there was never a hair out of place,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my, what a nerd.”
Slowly but surely, that mindset began to change.
Hendricks and Ray both had younger sisters who were friends. The four of them went to a movie together, and Hendricks started to realize that Ray wasn’t so bad, after all.
“We just became friends,” she said.
Hendricks said she’ll never forget one incident in particular that happened at school.
“One day in shorthand class, he pulled up a chair behind me,” she said. He wrapped his feet around the legs of her chair and pulled.
“Somehow, the legs of the chair broke,” she said. “Oh, boy, was I mad.”
She didn’t stay mad for long, however, and said “yes” when Ray asked her to prom.
“We went and had a really good time,” she said.
In 1941, they were married, and Hendricks decided to embark on a new project the quilt.
“I was looking for something constructive to do,” Hendricks said. “I didn’t know anything about quilting.”
She learned quickly, however, and soon had a good portion of the project completed.
“Every time I sat down, I was sewing those pieces together,” Hendricks recalled.
Hendricks’ mother was a seamstress, so Hendricks was able to use leftover pieces of fabric, instead of buying the material from a store.
“The only part I purchased was the backing and the batting,” she said.
She didn’t use a sewing machine to create the quilt, either.
“It’s all by hand,” Hendricks said. “Every stitch is mine.”
“I wore out quite a few cardboard patterns,” she added. After a while, her husband, Ray, made a steel pattern for her to use.
Before Hendricks could finish the quilt, however, her first child was born.
“Then, I had six more,” she said.
With seven young children to care for, Hendricks didn’t have time for quilting.
“I had to put it away,” she said.
For the next 58 years, the unfinished quilt stayed in Hendricks’ cedar chest.
“Every time I opened it, I thought, ‘Oh, I wonder if I’ll ever get it done,” she said.
Whenever Hendricks thought she might have time to complete her project, life’s circumstances kept her away.
When her youngest child was six years old, her husband, Ray, passed away.
“He was only 53 when he died,” she said.
Raising seven children on her own wasn’t easy, Hendricks admitted.
“You bet it was hard,” she said. “We all came together, though. I think that’s what has kept me so young.”
The finishing touches
At the start of the 21st century, Hendricks finally found the time to tackle the long-neglected quilt.
One of her friends, Sue Schmidt, let Hendricks use her craft room to put the quilt on a large frame. This way, Hendricks was able to baste the quilt, which means sewing it together with large stitches to keep the pieces in place.
Because she didn’t have a frame of her own, Hendricks used an embroidery hoop. People told her it would be more work this way, but Hendricks said she managed.
“It just went slick as a whistle,” she said.
The project was completed in about three weeks.
“That was my first and last,” she said.
Although Hendricks doesn’t plan on starting another quilt, she does keep busy with knitting projects.
“I do that to keep my fingers limber,” she said.
Hendricks also keeps busy with her 20 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
She moved from Monticello to Delano in November, and so far, she’s enjoying meeting new friends and getting to know the area.