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Quilters enjoy a day at the 'races'

By Nita Brown

Drivers revved their machines at the starting line. 

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When the green flag dropped, they were off, sewing wide open. 

The Ragin’ Cajun, who was on the pole, jumped out to a quick lead, dogged closely by Cannonball, Burn Out Babs and the rest of the pack. 

Pit crew chiefs with names like Flash and Oil Can scrambled to keep their drivers moving. 

Race car fans, don’t think you’re losing it if these names aren’t familiar, because this race was not at Lancaster Speedway. 

These racing machines were sewing machines and the drivers and pit crew were all quilters. 

The Stripper’s 1600 race – complete with race points, pennants, checkered flag, a winner’s trophy and crown – was a “secret workshop” held Sept. 29 by the Magic Needle Quilters Guild at Primetime for Seniors Center. 

Each of the 14 competitors was given a racing-related nickname and “drove” their sewing machines in qualifying heats for pole positions in final races. In advance, each racer was given a list of materials to bring, including a sewing machine and 40 strips of fabric (hence the race name), that were each 2.5 inches wide and 40 to 44 inches long. 

During qualifying “heats,” these strips were sewn together end-to-end to form one long strip. 

What the competitors were making remained a secret until the end when the “finish line” produced a surprise quilt top, ready to be quilted. 

Race chairwoman Cherie Hulse, said Terry Harich (race manager) got the initial idea from an online sewing tutorial. 

Functional details were filled in by official timekeeper and “Quilt Police” Janet Nelson.

“This was so much fun for me,” Nelson said, as she demonstrated her stopwatch technique.

The Stripper’s 1600 was a team affair in every sense. Pit crew chiefs had to keep that long strip of fabric untangled, as drivers stitched on their machines, following race instructions. 

After one heat race, the driver and crew chief switched places so each participant could drive.

When the sewing settled, the top finisher and trophy winner was Alice “Cannonball” Baird, who was named “Queen Stripper.” 

Second place went to Joanne “Oil Can” Burgess, followed by Jo “Ragin’ Cajun” Hinson and Emma “Rewind” Thompson in third and fourth places. 

“It was hysterical,” Hulse said. “It turned out even better than we’d hoped. Staff and seniors at the center kept wandering down the hall to see what we were doing to have so much fun.”

“It should be illegal to have this much fun,” Harich said.

In the end, everyone was a winner, because each went home with a new quilt top. Hulse said even those who thought their fabric was “ugly” were impressed with the results.

“They were all in awe of what they’d turned out,“ she said.

Some members will use the quilt tops they made for family gifts, but many will become lap quilts for patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis  (ALS), which is also called   Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

The quilt guild has a special tie to ALS patients. 

Several years ago, Nelson, a charter member, was diagnosed with the disease. A prolific and creative quilter, Nelson has won numerous national quilting awards. Hulse said Nelson’s spunk has defied the odds. She inspires them all, and continues to create and quilt, with help from family or fellow Magic Needle members. 

“She just keeps going and going. She makes the Energizer bunny look like a snail,” Hulse said while smiling.

Hulse and Harich, Magic Needle program chairs, said they try to have an entertaining and instructional  program every month, but this one was definitely the highlight of the year. 

Hulse said their November program, with pro quilter Rachelle Apol, could eclipse the Stripper’s 1600, but everyone who came won’t forget the fun they had “at the races.”

New quilters are always welcome. 

For more information about the Magic Needle Quilters Guild, call Cherie Hulse at (803) 872-7309.