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Meet Linda Jackson Thielfoldt, Founder of Quilted EMbrace

Posted by Brenda Wolfensberger on

Linda Jackson Thielfoldt

Our October Stash Box is possibly our most special box to date. The theme is "Quilting for Charity," and the box is curated by Linda Jackson Thielfoldt. Linda is a prize-winning quilter, author, lecturer, instructor, and she is the founder of Quilted EMbrace.

The Inspiration

Quilted EMbrace (QEM) has most recently been the charity selected to be featured at MQX events. MQX holds some of the most anticipated quilt shows each year in America. Lectures, classroom instruction, prestigious quilting competitions, and top vendors fill the conference halls and the multi-day events buzz with the excitement of thousands of attendees. Linda explained:

I have a long association with Janet-Lee and Mary [of MQX], and I am so thankful for their support... they have always been charity minded. The main thing that has come out of my association with MQX is the exposure QEM has gotten and how it's slowly spreading. Just like in most towns and cities across the US there are nursing facilities nearby each of their show locations. At each show we reached out to local nursing homes and offered to donate the quilts to them. The cool thing about QEM is that the quilts stay local, there is no shipping them across the country. You don't have to donate through MQX but Mary and Janet-Lee were kind enough to support us. The impact is amazing and I have tons of real life stories about how these little 3' x 4' quilts are impacting lives.

Linda's non-profit organization began as a way to honor her sister, Emilie, known as "Em," who lived with special needs and spent the final six weeks of her life in a nursing home.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, having Emilie as my sister was very hard in some respects. People with disabilities were not accepted the way they are today. She was different. She was loud. She was challenging. She marched to a drum that was not always acceptable to the band. But she was loved, not always by everyone, but by those whom she touched along the way and who embraced her sweet spirit and witty ways.

Em's frank nature and view of the world offered unexpected lessons. Linda shares her favorite story:

One year while helping her Christmas shop for our family, we ran into a man in a wheelchair who had lost his legs. She struck up a conversation with him and while I was cringing at what she might say she got to the heart of the matter and asked him how he lost his legs. He told her that he was in Vietnam and stepped on a land mine. She said, "Wow, that must have hurt." He said he didn’t remember. She noticed that he was having a hard time navigating the close racks in the store, and she said that someone should tell the store manager to make more room for people like him. They chatted for about ten minutes and as they got ready to say goodbye, Em said, “I hope no one gets you socks for Christmas.” He laughed over that one and once again Em had spread joy. It was a classic Em-ism.

By the unfortunate end of Em's life, Linda had spent enough time at the nursing home to realize an inherent sadness to the setting. She saw that residents were often lonely and emotionally neglected.

She had given Em a lap blanket in the nursing home, and others noticed with enthusiasm that it was the perfect size for someone in a wheelchair. It was clear that the nursing home residents - and likely those in countless other facilities - could benefit from lap quilts. Linda discovered something about herself.

After she passed I realized that I had time on my hands - being her champion for thirty years took up more time than I realized. There was hole in my heart and I just kept feeling the call to do something. To make a difference. To use the time for someone else's good.

Em & LindaLinda began making 36" x 48" quilts along with her friends, and these were donated to the nursing home for more than a year. Eventually Linda founded Quilted EMbrace to carry the mission forward. The goal has always been to inspire other quilter's to apply their charitable nature to the needs of their own community. Linda and her friends have donated more than 300 quilts in the Metro Detroit area. At the 2016 Spring MQX show, more than 60 quilts were donated. Quilt groups and shops across the country have gotten involved. A Tennessee shop set a goal to donate 130 quilts this year.

Mentoring, Teaching & Design

Preserving the tradition and art of quilting is also important to Linda. Jumping aboard an MQX initiative to encourage young quilters, Linda began helping an eight-year-old girl, Georgia, who Linda tells us "has come a long way over two summers."

She just completed her first quilt and it is entered in MQX. She is hoping to win and wants to do everything. She told me after she got done quilting it that she "didn't like quilting. I said well it's a little late to be telling me this but OK. She went on to say with her arms in the air: "I LOVE quilting!" Made all the hours worth it to see the spark of creativity ignited in this sweet girl.

Linda plans to continue working with Georgia, and will soon begin mentoring and teaching another young girl. Meanwhile, Linda is a welcome personality throughout the nationwide quilting community, traveling the country to lecture, teach, and lend her talents to many events.

It's my favorite thing. I love the "light bulb moment" when a student goes beyond what they think they can and "gets it." I'm a very social person and I love making new friends, so that is a huge part of it for me as well.

It's clear Linda loves to share knowledge and inspiration, so a quilting book seemed to be a natural prospect for her. Earlier this year, American Quilter's Society published her first book On My Way to Baltimore. Baltimore Album quilts are regarded as particularly time-consuming. Linda offers an alternative approach to reduce the quilter's time while still remaining true to the spirit of a Baltimore Album quilt. She has two more books brewing, but she acknowledges that the abundance of hopeful authors and a highly competitive market could mean that her effort is better spent elsewhere. "Time will tell," she says.

For the time being I'm focusing on developing some of those quilts into patterns and while some quilt shops are shying away from stocking a lot of quilt books due to competition from online sellers, many still offer and sell tons of patterns for individual quilts.

From Then Until Now

Modern Mojo Two

Her quilting life began at age 12. Her mother was not a quilter, but Linda decided she wanted to make a quilt for one of her sisters who was having a baby. "Totally self taught," she says.

In those days there were few books, no internet, no online tutorials, etc. In a way it was a good thing because I didn't know if I was doing something right or wrong.

Linda's Ribbons

She definitely was doing something right. Since her first competition in 2002, Linda has received over 100 ribbons for her work, but she had a frightful moment in her career. We asked her to tell us about a winning quilt with special meaning. She didn't have to ponder the question. The answer was "Modern Mojo Two."

This quilt was made after a bad ski crash left me with a broken shoulder and a broken ankle and the realization that my competition quilting days might be over. I had very little range of motion in my dominate arm and my feathers looked awful. Really awful.

Worried that her gift for quilting could be lost, Linda determinedly loaded the top she had completed before the skiing accident. She began quilting no more than an hour a day - that was all she could do for quite a while. The quilt top was on the machine for four months.

It was a rough time for me. But I got it done and loved it. So different from anything I had done up to that point in time. It won blue at it's first show... took third at Paducah and snagged Outstanding Modern Quilt at Road to California. There is so much that is in that quilt that is not seen - it's a personal journey... with that quilt I finally, after a year of hell, said "I'm back!" So if my house is on fire that is the one quilt I'm grabbing on my way out the door.

This Week at MQX

"Find Your Modern Mojo" is one of the two classes Linda will be teaching at the Midwest MQX Quilting Festival this week, along with "Tension, Batting, Needles, and Thread! Oh My!" If you're fortunate enough to be registered, you might find that Linda has some special door prizes planned - wink, wink!


Our sincere thanks to Linda for curating this month's Stash Box. We're excited for our subscribers - this month's box will begin shipping October 20! Are you ready? If you haven't seen the stash provided in previous months' boxes, you can watch Margaret Leuwen's monthly reveals.

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