Amy Welch shows off the quilting projects she's made to take to the county and state fairs.  This year's quilt, in her hands, earned her a purple ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Amy Welch shows off the quilting projects she's made to take to the county and state fairs. This year's quilt, in her hands, earned her a purple ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Amy Welch got sun stitches as a kindergartner.

"The first thing I ever sewed was probably a sundress I made for myself when I was in kindergarten," said 16-year-old Amy, whose 4-H quilting project, a quilt with blocks featuring irregular stars on an ivory ground, earned her a grand champion ribbon at the Fillmore County Fair and a purple ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair.

"I don't remember how I got into quilting, but I did a small square for the fair when I was in fourth grade," she said. "After that, I made tied quilts until a few years ago when I made one that I machine quilted, which was kind of hard."

She related that she enjoys quilting because of the endless complexities and possibilities it presents. "Quilting is really fun. You can put your own creativity into it - even though you start with a pattern, you can pick different colors and change the pattern to something you like. It's a reflection of you, kind of the personality you put into the quilt. It's very rewarding to be able to say that you made the quilt.

"The fun part is putting it together, but I really like picking out the colors, things that you don't think will go together but when you do put them together, it's amazing how they look. I really like picking out colors for a quilt and doing the binding because it's hand-sewing, so I can sit on the couch and listen to music or watch TV if I want to, instead of pushing fabric through a sewing machine. It's soothing, and it's nice to get the final part of the quilt done."

Her previous years' quilt division entries included a photographic quilt with pictures taken at Kenny Chesney and Billy Currington concerts, one with purses since she has an affection for handbags, and several with purple, electric blue and bright green blocks framed by white or prints that are equally as cheerful. Her 2013 entry was a bit more difficult than the quilts she'd made in the past because "each star uses different colors for each point, and there are 42 different colors in the stars." This quilt is 81" by 81", and it's roughly a twin square quilt. She usually does rectangles, but this one turned out more square.

Amy shops throughout the year for fabrics she'd like to use, and she admitted that she's first drawn to colors, then to patterns while choosing textiles, noting that she particularly likes batiks and watery prints.

"My mom and I share our fabrics," she said. "If we find something, it goes into a box, and we're constantly finding new things we like, like pattern books. We'll find something and see if we want to try it. There's always something new...fabric and thread."

Preparing herself for showing her quilts to judges takes some study and a little confidence. She said it was kind of intimidating at the county fair because there was less competition. At the state fair, there were judges who were professional quilters, and she was going up against five or six people at a time at the county fair instead of 50 at the state fair.

Her reaction to seeing that she received a purple ribbon was "Why did this happen?" She explained that she had always gotten a red ribbon and fear was that she's not going to do well, something always have that in the back of her mind.

"I have a booklet that goes with it that I study before the judging and I was a nervous wreck during judging because there were six people being judged at the same time," she explained. "I just try to go through stuff - I know the size, the cost, the washing, but I find it hard to remember the steps of how I made it because it's easier when you think about the facts and something cool about the quilt. I try to push that to add to the quilt."

Success dropped her some hints before she even knew the actual results of the quilting division's competitions at each fair. "When I was done, it was a relief. I just had the feeling that it had gone well. And the judge liked my quilt. I got a blue at the county fair - that's like a purple at the state fair. I usually wait to see if I got a purple, and last year I got a purple also...after the judging was done, I had a really good feeling then that everything came together. This year, when I saw a little purple sticker on my quilt, I couldn't stop smiling. It really showed all the hard work I put into it, and it makes all that hard work worth it."

Both her county and state fair experiences were exhilarating, in that she was being recognized for her knowledge and skills, along with the hard work.

"It's always very exciting at the county fair to have your name on the board," she said. "The whole experience of interacting with other participants and getting ideas how to do something is really nice."

Not only did Amy enter her quilt in the state fair, the week before, she brought a sheep, getting a purple for that, too. She also enjoyed spending the week hanging out with her cousins who live six hours away and are also in 4-H.

"I get to see them, and my aunt comes, too, so we get to be with each other every day and hang out. We usually walk around, and we each pick an afternoon where we buy and try one new food item and share it," she said. "At the 4-H building, we go to see all the projects, get ideas for our projects and see how many other people from our counties brought stuff. That's kind of fun, too."

Right now, she's concentrating on the new school year at Kingsland High School, but always has quilting on her mind even though she doesn't always have time to connect the blocks.

"I usually start another one at the end of the school year for the fair. Once the school year starts, it gets really busy and I don't get to quilt so much," she explained. "I should start on my next fair quilt, but I don't get to do that until school's out. A lot of times, I'm finishing things at the last minute. There could be worse things to get into than quilting, and I feel like it's an investment in the future."