Thimbleberries® - A Celebration of Quilting

Kirsten Rhors Schmitt

The state's motto "Star of the North" is a title appropriate for Minnesota native and quilting sensation Lynette Jensen, founder of Thimbleberries®.

By Kirsten Rhors Schmitt

Like many women of generations before her, Lynette Jenson is a Midwestern pioneer. Her journey has taken her from rural life in the small town of Cosmos, Minnesota, to the heights of the quilting world. Along the way, Lynette never lost sight of her roots and the importance of giving back. Her success with Thimbleberries, celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, is grounded in quilting and women's history, with an emphasis on charity projects with Habitat for Humanity and other worthy groups.

"There is something special about women and handicrafts," says Lynette. "They are creative with their limited free time and go through the extra work and effort of stitching quilts to make their homes special for family and friends to enjoy—not so much for themselves." Lynette lives what she teaches, integrating images of her home and garden in Hutchinson, Minnesota, as a backdrop for many of the projects in her books.

The Thimbleberries founder works on Main Street in a studio four blocks from her home, writing fifteen to sixteen patterns per year, and designing eight fabric lines that coordinate with the projects. A twentieth-anniversary retrospective book entitled In Celebration of Quilting was published in March.

Her small staff of seven people helps with photography, graphic and fabric design, sewing samples, technical writing and illustration, accounting and shipping, but Lynette is the creative core of the business. "The collaboration of working with energetic people is a joy," she says, "and it allows me to continue to develop ideas and new methods for quilters all over the world."

From the very beginning, Lynette's emphasis has been on the importance of individual quilt shops, which is where she began her teaching career more than two decades ago. She was a home economics major who discovered quilting in 1975, and locally began to share her love of the craft. Demand grew for her patterns and eventually for the soft tones of hand-dyed fabric she used in her own quilts.

"The shops are the mainstay of teaching, feeling the human connection, and being part of a community," Lynette says. "That was the basis for the Thimbleberries clubs—to get people together to teach each other new techniques and share the joy of their accomplishments."

Today, there are about 1,000 clubs worldwide, meeting once a month in local quilt shops. Some stores have five clubs with fifty quilters in each, and others have one with fifteen members. The international scope and popularity of Thimbleberries has reached Canada, Iceland, France, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands, as well as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Central America.

The clubs have been an enormous success. "Historically, quilting bees were the only socially acceptable way for women to meet and talk, and it still works for women today," says Lynette. "You have to put the coffee and cookies back into quilting. A quilter can connect with someone, maybe the mother of her son's best friend, who will pick her up and jump up and down when all her points meet!"

Each participating quilt shop is provided with a year-long Thimbleberries program for members. The theme of the club is inspired by a special coordinating fabric line and is organized around a large project and four smaller ones. Also included is a monthly newsletter with special free patterns, tips, and notes from Lynette. The 2008 Thimbleberries quilt club project features the Lodge & Lakeside collection by RJR Fabrics in two colorways. Members can make quilts from Lakeland Pines, Forest Bloom, and Woodland Stars, as well as a table runner from Bear Paw pattern.

The Thimbleberries clubs also allow Lynette to spread the word about charity projects that are close to her heart, such as collecting and donating blocks and quilts for local Habitat for Humanity homes. In addition, Lynette encourages club members to seek out their own local Habitat chapters and donate quilts to the home builds or for auction fund-raisers.

Lynette has recently become involved with Faith's Lodge, Danbury, Wisconsin, retreat for parents and families of those who have a seriously ill child or have lost a child. Thimbleberries made and donated 75 lap quilts for families to take home. Club members are encouraged to print the free Stars of Hope pattern from the Thimbleberries Web site and make a quilt of their own to donate.

Lynette and Thimbleberries have now branched out into other branded products, such as braided rugs, embroidery designs, stencils, photo scrapbooks, and a line of fabric wash and hand lotion. "It's personally nice to know how many people I have touched as they started out quilting." says Lynette. "I'm gratified to have been in the business this long and to have encouraged quilters' creativity with my patterns, books, and fabric."

Quilters can sign up at www.thimbleberries.com for Catching Up With Thimbleberries, a free online newsletter from Lynette. It includes seasonal recipes, decorating ideas, gardening tips, and free patterns.

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