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Quilt EXPO returns after 2020 cancellation

Wendy Nickel is selected to be the 2021 EXPO Featured Quilter

By Fiona Edberg - Staff Writer | Aug 1, 2021

Wendy Nickel holds one of her quilts in the photo above.

An innovator at heart, Wendy Nickel’s creative endeavors are a colorful patchwork of ingenuity.

Nickel, of Kiester, has been named Featured Quilter of the 37th annual Blue Earth Quilt EXPO, which will be held at Blue Earth Area High School on Aug. 13, 14, and 15. The EXPO will be open from 4-8 p.m. on Friday, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, and from noon-4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5.

A lifetime’s worth of creative projects indicate Nickel is a worthy candidate for the title of Featured Quilter.

“I feel very honored,” says Nickel simply, when asked about her feelings regarding the title.

In fact, she was meant to receive the honor in 2020.

“I was supposed to be the featured quilter last year,” Nickel explains. “Then, of course, it got pandemic-ed.”

The world is springing back into action in 2021, however, and it is bringing opportunities for do-overs.

“Jan Shaffer contacted me this spring and asked if I would do it, and I said, ‘of course,'” shares Nickel.

Her exploration of quilting began years ago.

“I took a mini-course at Mankato State University in 1976,” says Nickel. She was inspired to take a stab at the hobby for several reasons.

“I was a home economics major,” explains Nickel. “I did all those types of classes. Sewing, design, foods and nutrition, child development. Quilting just fit with those classes.”

Nickel was also inspired by several quilters in her life.

“I had a grandma who quilted,” says Nickel. “And my mom had a friend who quilted, and had interesting designs.”

The quilt Nickel created during the course, which was her first, will be on display at the Quilt EXPO this year.

“A lot of people would have thrown it away. It’s not that good,” says Nickel. “But it’s where I started.”

Nickel has gone on to tackle a variety of quilting projects since then. Perhaps most special to her is what she calls her ‘contest’ quilt.

“I used to do a lot of contests,” Nickel explains. She has entered jams, pies, and other cooked and baked goods in such contests, and often receives exemplary feedback.

“Lots of times they would give you an apron for participating,” says Nickel. “Instead of keeping the aprons, I thought it would be more meaningful to bring them all together.”

And that is what Nickel did. The final product is a beautiful quilt with square after square of contest memories.

Nickel can relate the story behind each preserved square of apron.

She points to one apron square which features a jam jar in its design.

“In 1998 I was inducted into the Sure-Jell Hall of Fame,” remembers Nickel. The contest celebrated jam making.

Another square features a bright red heart, under which reads, “The Mississippi Cook.” This apron square represents an interesting story. 

Its journey stems from Nickel’s discovery of a cooking contest specifically focused on Mississippi-inspired food.

“During my lunch period at school, I researched which types of food are popular in Mississippi,” relates Nickel. “I made a pear tart.”

Despite her Minnesotan heritage, Nickel’s pear tart went over very well in Mississippi. She found out she had won the contest, and even had her recipe printed in a magazine.

“I won a trip to the Viking Cooking School,” remembers Nickel. “I got to take a cooking class, I got a set of knives.”

“I was the only one from Minnesota,” Nickel adds. “The members of the class were trying to figure out how anyone from Minnesota could win a Mississippi cooking contest!”

As Nickel’s stories show, she is by no means a one-trick pony. Her quilting projects, as well as her other, non-quilted creations, demonstrate a blend of artistic hobbies.

“Some quilters are what I would consider ‘hard-core quilters,'” explains Nickel. “And I am not one of them. I like quilting, but I do other things as well.”

Nickel has led a busy life, full of activities revolving around her passion for home economics. She taught home economics for many years, starting in Frost and Bricelyn in 1978, and ending in Wells when she retired in 2013.

When asked what has kept her busy since her retirement, Nickel shares, “At first it was so much fun, because I got to go out shopping, get coffee, but everyone else was working.” It wasn’t long before Nickel added some new pursuits to her schedule.

“I volunteered at the Clothes Closet in Wells. I worked one day a week until 2020.” Nickel mainly assessed jewelry at the thrift store.

Nickel continues, “I’ve been very involved in the community. I’m on the Kee Theatre board and the library board.” She also adds the fair board, the 4-H program, open-class entries at fairs, and a stint as co-superintendent of the Horticultural Building to her lengthy resume.

Given all these activities, it is natural to wonder when Nickel finds the time to sit down and produce her hand-crafted quilts.

“In the summer time it’s hard, because I’d rather be out gardening,” admits Nickel. “Usually if I can find time, it’s in the afternoons. It’s not on a daily basis, but a couple times a week.”

Nickel thinks quilting is worth the time it takes, however.

“I think it’s a great hobby,” she shares.  

When asked what her advice would be for a beginning quilter, Nickel says, “I would probably start small, with a little project.”

She continues, “I’d probably want to take them to a quilt show. I’d take the person around, get a feel for what they like, and steer them that way.”

“They do need to know how to sew,” she adds.

Nickel’s array of projects shows where simple sewing skills can take you. She creates everything from quilts to wreaths to fascinators to a specific style of Japanese mending.

Clearly, the sky is the limit for a creative mind and steady hand.