Runaway Quilters

Susi Willis adds a piece to her Autumn Bonfire quilt on the floor of the gymnasium.

Susi Willis travels around the world in her job as a leadership coach for DuPont, but when she wants a vacation, she comes to Maple Mount to be a part of Runaway Quilters.

“It’s always a rite of passage in the fall,” she said. “It’s so peaceful here, and I enjoy the fellowship of people who share a common hobby.”

This is the 25th year for the Runaway Quilters, and the 20th that they’ve been coming to the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center. Terry Russelburg, of nearby Philpot, Ky., organizes the Runaway Quilters retreat each year, and said 120 quilters from nine states came to Maple Mount from Sept. 20-23, from as far away as Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. “I think Kentucky has the fewest,” she said. “Tennessee has the most.”

Hughetta Dale, of Beaver Dam, Ky., holds up her One Block Wonder quilt with Carol Sexton. Dale was working on this quilt during the 2010 Runaway Quilters retreat.

In celebration of the 25th year, the participants made maple leaf blocks, which will be put in piles of 15 and given away as prizes to the participants. “They’ll take them home and make quilts,” Russelburg said. Black and white fabric sent home with members last September resulted in 16 quilts that were brought back this year and given away.

Willis was in the “Sit and Sew” group in the gym on Sept. 21 working on a quilt called Autumn Bonfire. “I made this exact quilt for a friend who was turning 50, and I decided I wanted one too,” she said. “I’m keeping this, that’s a rarity for a quilter.”

This is her ninth year to come, after learning about the annual September retreat from a friend in her quilt guild in Hermitage, Tenn. “It sounded so lovely to come to Kentucky and be with other quilters,” she said. “It was everything they said it was. There are people from Nashville I only see when I come here.”

Billie Simpson, left, works on a quilt for her son, while Nylene Henry sews a cell phone bag.

Nylene Henry made the trip all the way from Sebring, Fla., along with her friend Billie Simpson of Guntersville, Ala. “It’s like coming to a family reunion,” Henry said. “It’s the people more than the classes.”

This is her 15th year to come to Runaway Quilters. She once lived in Ashland, Ky., and some of her friends who still live there come to Runaway Quilters. While she was living in Guntersville, 20 miles south of Huntsville, she became friends with Simpson when they bowled in the same league.

“I lost both my parents in 2006, and Nylene suggested I come to Runaway Quilters to relax and recover,” Simpson said. She’s come ever since. “It’s like family, you get to know everyone. They’re a great bunch of people,” she said. “I learn something new every year. The atmosphere of the facility is very refreshing.”

Carole Crane sews blocks for her Dresden Star quilt that is hanging to her left.

Carole Crane, of Ashland City, Tenn., was working on a Dresden Star quilt on Sept. 21. “I took a class in Fort Wayne, Ind., from the woman who designed the pattern, Edyta Sitar.” This is her fifth year to come to the Mount.

“This is such a nice place to come, you get pampered and don’t have to fix dinner,” Crane said. “It’s such a pleasant place, there’s such peace here. I’m in my own world.”

Crane has been a quilter for 10 years. “I used to say it was cheaper than a doctor’s bill, but it’s not,” she said. “But it’s a lot more fun.”

Jacqueline Harper holds up the block she learned to make in the All Around Minnesota pattern.

Jacqueline Harper came all the way from Quitman, Ga., for the fifth time, and was taking a class on Sept. 21 to learn the All Around Minnesota pattern. “My sewing instructor told me she came to Runaway for her vacation, that I should come too,” Harper said. “After my first year, I was just hooked. I love the people I’ve met.”

Libby Smith, left, instructs Rita English on the intricate Log Cabin Star design.




Libby Smith, of Brentwood, Tenn., was teaching the advanced Log Cabin Star pattern in her class, as Rita English took note. “You’re dealing with a lot of odd angles and geometry,” Smith said. “If you don’t get the angles right, you end up with a mini volcano.”

English, of nearby Pleasant Ridge, both takes and teaches classes each year, and admits the Log Cabin Star is pretty challenging. “I’m not a math person, we use the 60-degree angle to make this quilt.”

Sheila Gravely cuts fabric for her rag quilt.

Sheila Gravely, of Hendersonville, Tenn., was wielding her fabric cutter and talking about the advancements that have been made since her mother was a quilter. “Quilters are all strippers – we cut fabric into strips,” she said with a smile. This is her fourth or fifth time to come to Runaway Quilters, after missing the last two years due to illness.

“It’s just such a peaceful setting,” Gravely said as she was cutting fabric for a rag quilt. “I feel so close to God and so much creativity.”


Here are various quilts that were on display in the Center courtyard.