Norma Madden: Master Artist & Memory Maker
By Janet Keeler Wilcox
Some of Norma Madden’s earliest childhood memories were of playing under quilts while her mother Beatrice Helquist and her grandmother May Bailey were quilting.
Over the past 60+ years Norma has replicated similar experiences and memories for her daughters: Sallie, Valerie, Kelli, and Alayna.
Not only did she teach them to quilt, but she taught 15+ granddaughters, plus dozens of others in Blanding the fine art of piecing and hand quilting.
In today’s fast paced world, old fashioned quilting bees are almost a dying art. Most quilters today have quilts machine stitched by local experts.
However, in the 1960’s Norma and her sister Bernice Perkins Hurst first taught their children simple things like tying quilts and then eventually how to quilt.
“The goal in quilting was to get 3 small stitches on a needle” remembered Sallie. Hence the need for thimbles and sometimes fingernail polish or super glue to protect raw fingers!
But what the Madden children remembered best was making tents under the quilt frames while their mother and friends were quilting and visiting.
For over 20 years, the Madden family has held dozens of quilting weekends in various locations.
“We usually arrange for a large conference room in a motel where we can all be together: sisters, nieces, cousins, and granddaughters,” explained Sallie. “We spend the whole weekend eating, visiting, and even do some sewing! Mom often teaches us a new pattern.”
Good food, laughter, and reconnecting are a big part of this family’s quilting tradition.
When Norma and her family lived up north, she was a member of three different quilt guilds: American Fork, Lehi, and Provo. She has won Grand Champion Ribbons at both State and County Fairs, as well as the Springville Quilt Show.
When she and her husband moved back to Blanding 30 years ago, she helped initiate the beginning of the Blanding Guild. Kathy Hurst, Ada Rigby, Evelyn Perkins, Edith Young, Jolene Holt, and Bonnie Meyers were the backbone of this initial quilt guild.
Hosting quilting bees, teaching workshops, and giving hands on instruction have been Norma’s gift to quilters for dozens of years. She and Evelyn Perkins were two fast friends who taught many beginners the finer points of quilting, including appliqued blocks and rolled needle designs used in making flowers.
She has made at least 250 quilts, many of which were given to hospitals, women’s shelters, friends, and families in need.
She even taught Trent Halliday (Mike and Linda’s son) how to quilt. “He can do it like no one’s business,” said Sallie, “even though he is still struggling with cancer.”
There is something very unifying when neighbors, family and friends surround a quilt: stitching, talking and helping others as they learn the finer points of hand quilting. There’s laughter, jokes, and learning things you never knew.
Often those quilting bees were at the homes of Evelyn Perkins, Bonnie Meyers, or at churches. Quilters in town would often gather for major events and tie quilts for weddings, babies, or humanitarian projects such as the hundreds of quilts sent to Korea which involved quilters from throughout San Juan County.
Stitching quilts together are definitely the “ties that bind” us to others.
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