In stitches Congregation finds relief, service funds all sewn up in annual quilt auction


By Tracey Korthuis
Special to Wheat Life

mca-quilts-1

Oct. 1, 2022, dawned cool and crisp over the grounds of the Menno Mennonite Church. Located 20 miles west of Ritzville, Wash., the church property is a shady, green oasis surrounded by wheat fields and is home to the Mennonite Country Auction. This year marked the 45th year of the Mennonite Country Auction, and it drew approximately 700 visitors who flocked to a variety of booths, enjoyed delicious food and bid on the auction items that included Wagyu beef, stained glass art, quilts and a handmade wooden rocking horse. Volunteers from the area, along with members of other Mennonite congregations from Washington state, came together in pursuit of a common goal — raising money to support the Mennonite Central Committee. 

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) provides relief, development and service ministries, both in the U.S. and abroad. Teams from the MCC respond to natural disasters, war zones and developing countries, providing food, clothing and medical supplies. Currently, more than 1,000 Mennonite volunteers are working in 53 countries to improve access to clean water, education, health care and sustainable food production. The MCC also actively works to promote peace by teaching conflict resolution skills, addressing systemic injustices and encouraging relationship building across racial, ethnic and cultural lines. In the years since the first Mennonite Country Auction in 1978, more than $2.5 million dollars have been raised in support of the MCC. The Mennonite Country Auction is one of 47 relief auctions that take place throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Pastor Emily Toews opened the day with an invocation. Visitors were able to enjoy freshly pressed apple cider; apple butter; maple syrup; homemade ice cream and pie; baked goods; locally grown and ground red wheat flour; Amish cheese; cured meats, including bacon, ham and sausage; rummage sale items; locally made crafts; fabric, yarn and other notions; and fair-trade goods from around the world. According to Dennis Swinger Jr., who heads up public relations for the MCA, while a few years have been damp and blustery, the majority of the time, the auction has been blessed with exceptional weather.

Auction items could be previewed in a large, white tent on the edge of the church grounds. The vast majority of the auction entries at the MCA are hand-crafted quilts. This year, out of 105 items, 56 were quilts. An incredible variety of colors, sizes and styles of quilts were displayed, draped over purpose-built stands, inside the tent. The quilts come from across the U.S. and Canada, and this year’s catalog included quilts from California, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Ontario, Canada. Some are purchased at other MCC relief auctions or from Amish quilters and donated to the Mennonite Country Auction. Others are donated by quilting groups affiliated with Mennonite congregations throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to Debbie Shank Miller of Seattle, chair of the quilt committee, traditional quilts like log cabin patterns, along with lap and baby quilts, tend to sell well. She said it is “fun to donate quilts and see them sell for a good cause.” Miller’s contribution this year was a large, flying geese-style quilt, in shades of gray, green and blue.

In the 2022 auction catalog, several of the quilts were made by Washington Mennonites, including some from the greater Ritzville area. Linda Reimer, of Ritzville, was busy helping customers in the Quilter’s Corner Plus booth, but took a moment to talk about the quilt she donated to the auction this year. Reimer began sewing as a child and gained a lot of experience making apparel before transitioning to quilting. She considers her quilting style to be more traditional than modern, and she enjoys following a pattern as written, with minimal improvisations. To make her quilts, Reimer sews smaller pieces of fabric together to make larger pieces, called blocks, which are then sewn together to make the quilt top. The top, batting and a backing fabric are layered and stitched — or quilted — together, either by hand or by machine. The quilting design is usually chosen to complement the top. To finish off the quilt, long strips of fabric, called binding, are used to seal up the raw edges of the quilt. The quilt Reimer donated this year was a honeybee baby quilt, in soft tones of tan, green, blue and taupe. In the auction, her quilt brought in $250.

Local quilters Betty White of Moses Lake, Linda Kuch of Odessa, and Regan Bonato of Moses Lake also contributed quilts to the auction. Bonato’s stars baby quilt sold for $300, as did White’s kitchen sink quilt. A two-sided briar patch quilt made by Kuch, featuring brightly colored triangles offset with crisp, solid white, sold for $550. Kuch grew up with quilts made by aunts and grandmothers and discovered a love of sewing while studying home economics at Eastern Washington University. When her children grew older, she was able to take a quilting class in Odessa. Kuch particularly enjoys working with bright colors and designing her own quilt patterns. Quilting is a creative outlet for Kuch. She keeps notebooks of ideas to try and lays them out on a 72 x 72 design wall in her sewing room. Her contributions to the MCA tend to be more modern to appeal to younger buyers. She also belongs to a quilting circle at the Menno Mennonite Church, where the members collaborate on projects, including prayer quilts. Prayer quilts are blessed and given to church members experiencing health challenges or bereavement.

The time a quilt takes to complete depends on the size, complexity of the design and whether the quilt is hand-sewn or machine-sewn. A simple lap or baby quilt can take a few days if machine quilted. A large, hand-sewn quilt can take months.

Prior to the start of the auction, the first lot of eight items from the quilt racks were layered on a display bed on stage. Each quilt was introduced and described by Miller, while two volunteers rotated the display bed back and forth so that everyone in the audience could see it. When the quilt on top sold, it was folded and removed to reveal the next one beneath it. The sale order alternated between sets of quilts and other items. While Chuck Yarbro of Chuck Yarbro Auctioneers moved on to sell some of the other items, a team of volunteers quickly reloaded the display bed with the next lot of quilts.

Because the quilts represent the majority of items in the auction and because they command strong prices from bidders, they are vital to the fundraising efforts of the Mennonite Country Auction. According to Yarbro, auction attendance and bidding appeared to be comparable to prior years. He made a point of mentioning how well the Menno Mennonite Church organizes events of the day and how generously the auction is supported by people who come from all over the state and beyond. Pastor Bryce Miller was pleased with the turnout as well.

Always the first Saturday of October, the 2023 Mennonite Country Auction will be held on Oct. 7, 2023. Information about their church and the Mennonite Country Auction can be found online at mennomennonite.org or by following the Mennonite Country Auction on Facebook.

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