MOORHEAD (AP) -- Quilting is not simply a hobby for nimble-fingered females.
Just ask Julian Thompson, known by his sewing cohorts as "Quilter Tom."
Thompson, 78, of Moorhead, is the only male member of the North Dakota Quilter's Guild -- a 200-member club -- and has been sewing for almost 50 years.
Kim Baird of Fargo, president and one of the founders of the guild, says Thompson's work is one-of-a-kind.
"I think he's a real folk artist," she says. "He doesn't have any training, but he knows how to handle the materials and he gets the point across. He also uses a lot of recycled materials."
As for any speculation that this seems like an unusual hobby for his gender, Thompson just shrugs: "At one time tailors were all men and there was nothing wrong with that."
Thompson does admit, however, that -- male or female -- quilters are a quirky bunch of hobbyists.
"You realize you have to be a little off to be a quilter," he jokes. "A sane person would never cut a piece of material into little pieces then sew them together again."
Thompson has known his way around a sewing machine for 40 or more years. Yet it wasn't until 1983 that the former bookkeeper took his first quilting class.
"The first time I went to a meeting, the instructor looked at me and said, 'I think you're in the wrong room,"' he says. "I said, 'Nope, I know how to use a machine so I thought I'd take up quilting."'
In his early 20s, Thompson's mother taught him the arts of tatting (making lace with a knotting shuttle) and crocheting.
He quickly put his handiwork to use, crocheting lace for his baby daughters' slips. He was in his early 30s when he owned his first sewing machine.
"I didn't have any lessons on how to sew," he says. "But I went down to Mrs. Blows and bought a (machine) from her."
Soon he was fashioning mother-daughter outfits for his wife and two daughters, plus trousers for his four sons.
Thompson now has five sewing machines scattered around his home, one of which is his mother's 1926 Singer treadle machine.
Since his first quilting project, a three-block wall hanging, Thompson has made quilts and pillows for most of his six children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
His wife, Millie, doesn't sew at all, but says she loves the things her husband makes for her -- including the first and only formal dress she ever owned.
"This is my workshop," says Thompson, motioning to a table and a set of shelves nestled in a corner of the Thompsons' dining room. "I've got my corner here and there's stuff under every nook and cranny."
No room in their home is large enough to accommodate his 9-foot-square quilting frame, so Thompson sets it up in the backyard to put finishing touches on the quilts.
He takes care to personalize each of his hand-quilted and embroidered projects.
"I think mostly what Tom likes to do is make things for his family," Baird says. "They all have a lot of personal memories. When Tom brings a quilt in to show and tell, we hear the story behind it."
The quilt he made his mother for her 102nd birthday is no exception. The coverlet's 16 blocks are filled with memories of his mother's life; one for each of her three children, and even a patch commemorating the first bicycle she owned.
"This is my pride and joy," he says, pulling out an enormous white tablecloth trimmed in white, gold and silver handmade Battenburg lace.
The tablecloth, sewn for the couple's 50th wedding anniversary, won a champion ribbon at the Clay County Fair in Barnesville.
No two of his quilts are alike. Some are appliqued or pieced. Others are embroidered while still others feature a combination of techniques. He uses notions such as buttons, ties and satin stitching to dress up the quilt squares, and has tried dozens of backing and sashing methods.
"I keep running into difficulties trying to figure out what to make them out of," he says. But by the looks of the piles of finished quilt blocks, he's doing fine.
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