When Don Zaehringer walks into a quilting store with his wife, store attendants usually ask his wife if she needs help.
"My wife will tell them, 'No, talk to my husband. He's the quilter,'" he told the Muscatine Journal .
Having been a quilter for almost 30 years, Zaehringer, 69, is used to the surprised looks. He is also used to being part of a hobby traditionally thought of as a woman's purview. Zaehringer is the only man in Muscatine's Melon Patchers Quilt Guild, a club of at least 80 quilters.
"I do sometimes tell them, I say, you know . I'm a member. You can just act like I'm one of the ladies," he said.
This summer, the Muscatine native will have more than 20 of his quilts on display at the Quilt and Textile Museum in Kalona, a town known as the quilt capital of Iowa.
"The main draw is the fact that he's a man and he made quilts himself," said Nancy Roth, managing director at the Kalona Historical Village. "You don't see too many men that make quilts."
Zaehringer will be the second man whose quilts will be on display at the museum since it opened in 2000.
"One thing that he does a really good job with is his fabrics. You have some people that don't match up their fabrics really well, but he does a phenomenal job matching up his textiles," Roth said.
Zaehringer started quilting when he was 40 or 41. He had picked up fabric, probably from Wal-Mart, and had into a sewing machine, possibly from a friend. One day, he just started quilting.
"I just sat down, started cutting my material up," he said.
He cut patches for that first quilt with scissors, as opposed to the more precise rotary cutter. That first quilt took him months to make. Back then, Zaehringer worked at HON, packaging tables and later cabinets in an assembly line.
Quilts, he said, have an assembly-line component to them. The patterns repeat and so do the actions: tracing, cutting, sewing. Zaehringer works on his quilts for 20-25 hours a week, some of which he spends at his sewing machine, with his two dogs Cocoa and Minnie underfoot. He spends the rest of his time hand-stitching details on his quilt tops.
"I'd rather spend my ... day out here or in my chair, hand-quilting," he said, sitting at his sewing desk.
Part of the allure for him, he said, is to see the quilt grow from tiny patches that he traces to a larger pattern. As far as he can tell, he is an anomaly in his family. Neither his parents, nor his siblings quilt and he didn't grow up around quilting. One of his brothers does woodworking; no one else has a creative hobby.
"We never had anything like quilts around home," he said.
But he is on a quest to make a quilt for everyone in his family. Thus far, he's made quilts for six of his eight siblings and for some of his grandchildren.
"Everyone will have a quilt," he said.
Information from: Muscatine Journal, http://www.muscatinejournal.com
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