For Maine’s top quilter, every stitch tells a story

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Posted Oct. 26, 2009, at 7:22 p.m.

Leonette “Nan” Pelletier of Eagle Lake caught the quilting bug from her mother in the ’70s, and she hasn’t recovered yet. In fact, she has made a career of exposing others to such contagious needlecraft.

To recognize her efforts to revive this nearly lost art, last summer she was named the state’s top quilter. She soon received an official expression of sentiment from the 124th Legislature and the people of Maine congratulating her. “I’m enjoying myself,” she said in a recent interview.

The nimble septuagenarian has attended nearly every Maine Quilts show, often one of a cadre of “white glovers,” who offer an up-close, yet smudge-free look at the intricate hand stitches on the reverse side of some of the more striking pieces.

Just last summer, Pelletier’s own quilts took center stage as patrons of the 32nd annual Maine Quilts show at the Augusta Civic Center were invited to meet Pelletier, at her expansive display of 10 of her own quilts, that ranged from full- to dollhouse size.

Former students and friends old and new were drawn to the warmth embodied in her distinctive coverlets, each of which tells a story. “Once you learn to quilt, you have a lifelong hobby that is productive,” she said. “When you enjoy what you’re doing, that’s what keeps you going.”

The veteran quilter’s connection with needles and thread actually began in the late ’50s, when she was teaching adult students such skills as sewing, tailoring and macrame through the Cooperative Extension Service. She is a charter member of the Acadian Quilters based in Madawaska and has served as an officer of Fort Kent’s Northern Neighbors Quilters.

Those 22 Neighbors, the eldest of whom is 94, have learned to capitalize on the popularity of using quilts to raise money for special projects, which include sponsoring two dog sleds in the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in March.

“We are working on our Can-Am quilt fundraiser,” Pelletier said. The group sells raffle tickets to win the prized comforter. One ticket costs $1, and this year $5 buys seven chances to win.

“We’re lucky to do the work we do every Wednesday at the Senior Center at the town office in Fort Kent. That’s where we do our quilting,” she said. “Lunch is served every day, and people come to see what we’re up to. We’re busy bees.”

Threads of the group’s generosity extend to quilts they have made for those who seek the services of the area battered women’s shelter, ill children at the Ronald McDonald House, and Project Linus, known for linking children in need with a warm blanket.

“We also make quilts for all the residents of Crosswinds, the assisted living center, so everyone has their own quilt to cuddle up with and enjoy.”

Though other people usually end up sleeping under Pelletier’s quilts, she makes a point of keeping a few with special meaning for herself. “Some of them are also earmarked for the future,” she said.

Lately she has been preparing acid-free boxes that will safeguard some magical Christmas quilts that will become heirlooms for her grandchildren.

Musing about how far her early education in quilting has taken her, Pelletier recalls how her mother first fueled her passion. “Sometimes I think of Mom,” Pelletier said. “She would be tickled.”

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