Corbin H. Crable

If you ever ran into Mildred Steed and chatted with her for a while, it was a safe bet that she would have a needle and thread in her hands and stay busy at work on her latest quilting project.
It was usually quite common for Mildred to gab with you while she quilted, according to her daughter, Laura McCarthy. Mildred, after all, liked to keep her hands busy and create lavish, colorful works of art for all to enjoy, and now quilting enthusiasts can see Mildred’s works on display this month at the Gardner Historical Museum.
The quilting exhibit features both finished and unfinished works by her mother, McCarthy said, and coincides with the Johnson County Fair.
Fairgoers will be able to see live demonstrations of quilt finishing from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6 and also before and after the fair parade on Saturday, Aug. 7, according to the museum’s website.
All in all, the exhibit is a timeline of Mildred’s works that she had not yet given away to friends or family. Mildred died earlier this year.
“She was well-known for piecing quilts together for many years, so this exhibit is a tribute to my mother,” McCarthy said.
She added that while museum visitors enjoy Mildred’s completed works, members of the congregation at Sacred Heart Catholic Church are going to pick up where Mildred left off, finishing many pieces that are made of double-knit fabric.
“The museum is going to get some friends together as well and do hand-quilting to try and finish off at least one quilt that has no backing,” McCarthy said. “We have a quilt frame set up for them to work.”
In addition to impressing family and friends alike with her quilting talents, Mildred stayed busy as a longtime member of the Gardner Needle Club and as a volunteer at the museum, said McCarthy, who is secretary of the museum’s executive board.
Mica Marriott, another museum board member, said she remembers Mildred well and thinks the exhibit is an appropriate way to honor a woman who gave to her community.
“I knew Mildred – She would come to the museum with Laura and help out,” Marriott recalled. “She was such a sweetheart. When she passed on, it was a sad day for the museum.”
But the quilting exhibit is a good way to honor Mildred’s memory, Marriott added, and she expects visitors to be struck by the detail and obvious hard work that went into the design of the hand-quilted pieces.
“The first thing you think when you walk in the door is that you can’t believe one lady made all of this,” Marriott said. “Then, when you look at the quilts, you realize how talented she was.”
And McCarthy said she hopes to put that talent on display for all to see this month, both at the museum and at the fair, so everyone can learn something from the exhibit.
“It’s learning about the difference between machine quilting and hand quilting,” she said. “You can gain a greater knowledge of what it took to create (the quilts).”
McCarthy said she feels good knowing she can share her mother’s talents with others.
“The quilts are very colorful, and to me, they’re just beautiful,” McCarthy said. “I think my mother would be proud.”