Helen Jackson points to a square in her red, white and blue “lasagna” quilt that features a photo of her husband and his barbershop quartet.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Helen Jackson points to a square in her red, white and blue “lasagna” quilt that features a photo of her husband and his barbershop quartet. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Helen Jackson has 16 million stitches in time.

She's certainly not going to save nine....

"I enjoy it. I prefer to do this than anything else," said Chatfield quilter Jackson, whose Bernina 170 sewing machine has more stitches under its presser-foot than any car could match in miles.

Helen puts the Bernina pedal to the metal as often as she possibly can, having mastered quilting as an art form and a pastime over her years of sewing for her family and following her retirement.

She explained, "I started out doing hand embroidery...I started even before I ever started school. As I got older, between my mother and home ec, I learned to make garments, and it's one of those things that's hard to remember not being able to do."

Helen admits she wasn't into quilting at first, but spent time sewing clothes for her children. At Eastertime she would make her daughters matching dresses and one for herself.

"I made Easter dresses every year until my kids decided it was something they didn't want," she added.

Helen said she "dabbled" in quilting before she retired, but didn't have the time to really get into it.

"I actually really got into it after we moved here about 12 years ago, so it's been about 10 or 11 years ago that I started getting serious about quilting," Helen said.

Her first project was a John Deere tractor panel she made for her husband Ed to hang over his bed. "The first thing I actually did was a wall hanging that I made before we moved here, and I have a few of the first things that I made that I wouldn't show to anyone," she admitted.

However, as the years have passed, Helen has accumulated many quilts and quilted items that she is very proud of.

The list of quilted items she's created ranges from key chains to full-sized quilts, and she specializes in "table toppers, runners, placemats, potholders and tote bags.

"I'm making some other things, too," she said.

She's made some very important gifts, such as the banner with three crosses she gave to her church in Eyota, the quilts she's given to each of her daughters, and the tool-themed, tool-quilted blanket she made for Ed.

There is also a red, white and blue quilt draped over the back of the living room couch that features a "lasagna pattern, because it's in strips like lasagna in a pan" and a photo transfer of Ed with his barbershop quartet.

Her "pride and joy" is the black contrast bedspread quilt she made for herself out of only scraps she owned in her fabric stash. "The pattern is 'Dream Catcher'," she related, adding that Ed was impressed by how the blocks formed a positive-negative pattern with only three or four laid out on the floor.

Helen isn't sure what fabrics she'd choose if she were to actually make something for herself to keep that's not out of scraps, as she generally creates and either sells or gives away her work.

"The one thing I tend to do is the first time I make a project, I buy a kit because it has things all picked out, and I make that, then I know what I'm going to do next," Helen explained.

She particularly enjoys visiting the Quilting Cupboard quilt shop in Rochester because it's a small, friendly shop where the owners know her by name and can assist her when she is puzzled over a pattern far too long and can't figure out what exactly is going to happen to her blocks.

That said, Helen feels it's very important to use quality fabric and thread. "I buy the best fabric I can, even if I make fewer items because it's more expensive," she said. "They turn out nicer - if I go to all that work, I want to get the best fabric and make things nicer."

Though she has some of the better sewing machines on the market, Helen doesn't use most of the extra embroidery stitches they offer.

"My Bernina 430...I've had it about six to eight years. I bought it new because it has a stitch regulator on it so you can take the pedal off and just sew...the machine keeps going at the right rate," she explained. "I use my 170 for piecing and my 430 for quilting."

Helen also recommended having the right tools if one is interested in pursuing the hobby. "You want to have good rulers, a good cutting mat and a sharp rotary blade," she said. "To me, those are the most important things to have. You can get other gadgets, but you don't have to have a fancy sewing machine to do quilting."

Occasionally, Helen has to sort through her fabric stash and decide what stays and what's sold or donated, but often, she finds a new use for something she might not have considered before, revving up her Berninas and stacking up the stitch count.

"It seems overwhelming to sort it all, but I have to do it," Helen said. "My mother-in-law inspired me even after her death because she left some fabrics, and Nancy Richter has been an inspiration to me, too."

The sunny corner of the Jacksons' hilltop home in northwest Chatfield is definitely her favorite destination, a place where she aspires to quilt the world. "There's something in almost every room in the house that I've made. It makes a house a home," she concluded.

Helen Jackson's quilted creations can be found at Country Roads Crafts & Gifts in Chatfield, at DeWall's Country Crafts in Grand Meadow and also at various Chatfield area craft shows she attends throughout the year.