Retired Chicago police officer Marla Margelewski began quilting after the loss of her father, finding it therapeutic in coping with heartbreak as well as the stress of working as a police officer. Her story is incredibly inspirational for anyone who loves quilting and for people thinking about quilting as a form of relaxation.
Marla’s Wool Candle Mat project that she uploaded to Quilter’s Spotlight is a charming piece she made with the GO! Fall Medley, GO! Circle 2”, 3” 5” and GO! Cute Car dies. As a special touch to her quilt, Marla added buttons from her and her husband’s police uniforms, creating a lovely, personalized, tangible binding to an already impressive project.
How did you come up with the idea for the Wool Candle Mat?
I had been seeing people use wool for a long, long time and thought it was beautiful so I tried my hand at it. I’m not good at cutting, and every time I tried to cut you could see where my scissors landed. So I got frustrated and started researching and looking at magazines. I saw all these perfectly cut pieces, and then I saw the AccuQuilt GO! Fabric Cutter and I bought one. I had read about it and watched videos. I knew if I had it I was going to do something good. The buttons you see on the little circles are from my husband’s and my [police] uniform shirts.
It really is a lovely project, and the buttons are a heartwarming touch. Is there a quilting product you can’t live without, maybe a quilting obsession?
[laughter] The AccuQuilt GO! Fabric Cutter! It is really fabulous. I’m using it even more now because I have more dies.
Do you have any favorite AccuQuilt dies?
Yes, I do. The Tumbler, the holiday Christmas one with the snowman [GO! Holiday Accessories], the rag die is really, really nice. I mean, you can put a quilt together very fast. It’s one of my favorites. The double wedding ring I absolutely love, but I’m cutting the ring part from actual scraps. I like the classics. The hexagons, oh my God! You don’t really need a sewing machine once they’re cut out for you.
Are you a member of any guilds?
I belong to several guilds. Prairie Star Quilt Guild, Sarah’s Grove Quilt Guild, and North Suburban Quilt Guild. I joined all of them because I didn’t know how to quilt! I’m telling you, quilting was like therapy when I was working, but I didn’t belong to the guilds then.
How long have you been quilting?
I started quilting in 2006 when I actually started thinking about retirement. I wanted to learn how to quilt.
What triggered that?
I think it was the passing of my father and when I saw an article in a magazine—not even a quilting magazine—about a woman whose husband had passed away and she couldn’t bear to go in and clean his clothes out of the closet. And when my dad passed away I had a shirt of his hanging in the bathroom, and I would always touch it in the morning when I’d get up and then when I’d go to bed. Every morning and every night that was my ritual. It finally got to a point where I could finally release all of my dad’s clothes, so I asked a cook I knew at a restaurant if he wanted them because he looked like my dad’s size. He said, “Oh yeah, absolutely!” So after I gave my dad’s clothes away, I saw this article and the woman’s neighbor asked her if she could donate her husband’s clothes. So the neighbor boxed the clothes up, but instead of donating them, she sorted through them and took out all of the cotton shirts and she made a quilt out of the lady’s husband’s shirts. And when I saw that article I thought, oh my God, I could’ve done that with my dad’s clothes! Do you know how that would’ve felt? If I had known how to sew and if I’d heard that story, I would’ve known what to do. So that’s what started the journey. Since then, my daughter-in-law’s grandmother passed away, and I made quilts for their family members out of her grandmother’s clothes. Now I make quilts for people when a family member passes away.
That’s a great story, and now you’re sort of getting known for making quilts for those who are dealing with loss.
Yeah, I’m getting known for doing that. People see quilts I’ve made and now they’re calling me, sending me emails and saying, “Can you make a quilt for me?” So, I told my husband I’m going to get the Studio because I was getting overwhelmed. And also because I do a lot of charity work for Quilts of Valor, Project Linus, Project Night Night.
How does quilting make you feel?
It makes me feel good. When I worked as an evidence technician people were burglarized during the holidays. They had nothing, and I’d feel so bad so I used to sew these little bags and put hot cocoa in there and candy canes. You know, just little stuff, but it was something to give them. Here it is Christmas and they have nothing because someone stole their TV, etc. That’s why when I’d come home I’d sew. I thought, somebody’s got to do something. I’d load up the trunk of my police car with stuff.
How long did you work as a police officer?
I was sworn in in 1986. Then the last four years of my career I was promoted to an evidence technician. So I worked as a police officer for 26 years and then retired in 2011.
What was the most difficult part about your job?
I would say the most difficult part was coming home and shutting off what you see and what you have to do. Coming home and acting like it was a beautiful day when you know what you just went through is hard. But it was a good thing my husband knew because he was an officer as well.
Earlier you mentioned a project you’re working on for fallen officers called The Quilt to Remember. Tell me more about that.
When officers pass away it’s really hard to recover from the loss. Some officers wanted to find a way to honor them, so one of the girls put a plan into action to make quilts. I volunteered my services, but when I get there I see that they don’t know how to quilt. They were trying to figure out what to do with these [police officers’] shirts. I was thinking oh geez, we’re going to have to cut this fabric, and I thought oh, I have the AccuQuilt GO! Fabric Cutter! So, we used the Log Cabin die because I already had it.
Who is the team making this quilt?
Along with officers, we have a senior lady who comes in to help. And another lady who helped to restore the flags found in the rubble during 9/11. They took the flags to each state and each state was assigned a flag to restore.
When will the quilt be completed?
We’re looking at May 2015. Because that’s when we have our St. Jude Memorial March, and all the officers come to the police memorial on the lakefront and we honor the Gold Star families.
Where will the quilt be displayed?
We’re not sure, I think St. Judes and then it’ll travel around to the different districts so each station can see it and they’re going to encase it but they don’t know where yet.
Do you multitask when quilting?
It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m cutting, I can watch TV at the same time. If I’m sewing, then I listen to music or an audio book. If I’m longarming, I listen to an audio book because it’s like somebody’s talking to me.
Describe your studio.
I use the recreation room in the basement. I have a longarm in there, too. It’s crowded. I mean you got to walk in between everything sideways. It works for me because I do everything in steps.
What is your dream-quilting project?
I would like to make a Baltimore Album Quilt. They’re appliqué shapes and each block is different. I was just telling my husband about it. But I want to design my own. I have it in my head that everybody will love it.
4/24/15 UPDATE: The "Quilt to Remember" is now complete (see below). You can get more details here.