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CHARLESTON -- Thelma Childers has been piecing together beautiful quilts for more than 14 years.

The Charleston woman has always enjoyed sewing, but her passion for quilting happened by chance. “I just wandered into a quilt shop in Mattoon and they talked me into taking a class. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed working with fabric and color,” she said.

As a retired accountant, “the math part of quilting is fascinating,” she explained. “I just never saw myself as a creative person, but I really took to it.” Thelma has a goal of finishing one quilt top a month and she usually surpasses that goal. “I just finished my 236th quilt,” she said.

With her incredible work ethic and talent, Thelma is excited to donate a quilt to Sarah Bush Lincoln’s Festival of Trees for the third time. Her quilt this year features a giant digitally printed Santa Claus that is appliqued to a quilt top of log cabin blocks pieced with Christmas fabric, including plaids, florals and retro holiday prints. The quilt measures 62 inches by 74 inches and has approximately 310 pieces.

Thelma pieced the quilt top and then had it custom quilted by Connie Lancaster of Indianapolis. “The custom quilting design really brings Santa’s appearance to life. It highlights Santa’s facial features and the curls in his beard,” Thelma said. Each log cabin block is also custom quilted with a holly leaf in the center of each block and straight lines surrounding each row in the block.

Thelma’s precision and meticulous attention to detail may be the reason several of her quilts have earned first place honors in prominent quilt shows such as the American Quilter’s Society Show in Paducah, Ky., the Road to California Show, and the Machine Quilters Expo Quilt Festival.

“The very first time I donated to Sarah Bush Lincoln, it was my eighth quilt about 12 years ago and I remember being thrilled that Susie Preston, a longtime supporter of the hospital, thought enough of it to buy it,” she said. “My quilts have definitely improved since then.” Last year, Thelma donated a woodland animal-themed quilt to Festival of Trees.

Thelma especially likes the fact that the funds from this year’s event support Sarah Bush Lincoln’s newly opened Heart Center. Her husband, Steve, had open-heart surgery 10 years ago and the cardiac rehabilitation program offered through METS (Monitored Exercise Testing Services) at Sarah Bush Lincoln was instrumental in his recovery.

Steve is also active on Sarah Bush Lincoln’s hospital board and Thelma donates the proceeds from her quilting show talks to the Peace Meal senior nutrition program, sponsored by Sarah Bush Lincoln. In addition, Thelma recently started volunteering for Sarah Bush Lincoln’s Pet Therapy program.

Thelma’s passion for quilting is just as strong today as the day she started. “I put a lot of myself in my quilts and I’m particular about them,” she said. “There’s always new fabric, new patterns, new templates and new ways to do things. I think that’s what keeps me interested.” Thelma sometimes creates her own designs or tweaks patterns to make them her own and she always counts the number of pieces in each quilt. “I probably average about 1,000 pieces per quilt, but the one that has the most is 6,537,” she said.

Thelma chronicles her quilting journey, including details on all of her 236 quilts, on her blog cupcakesndaisies.com. She also posts regularly on her Instagram account “thelmacupcake,” detailing her quilting adventures, struggles and progress.

As a quilter, Thelma said the question she gets asked most is, ‘What do you do with all of your quilts?’ She answers, “I mainly share them with friends and family and donate them for fund raising events. I have kept quite a few and enjoy changing the quilts on display in my home monthly. I don’t sell them because it’s my hobby and not my job and I wouldn’t want that to change.”

For more information about the Festival, contact Kim Lockart, event coordinator, at 217-258-2511 or go to www.sarahbush.org.

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