My turn: Quilting once a life skill

Ninety-year-old Portales quilter Laura Merrick took her first stitches when she was so small that she had to kneel in a chair beside her mother to reach the quilting frame, and in an era when quilting was a life skill, not a hobby.

Betty Williamson

Betty Williamson

“People in those days had to quilt or freeze to death,” she said, remembering how her mother salvaged the backs of shirts and the legs from worn jeans to keep her children warm.Merrick’s lifelong talents with a needle will be celebrated at the High Plains Quilt Festival this weekend, where she is being named the first “Honored Quilter” by the festival organizers.

A number of her meticulously-stitched quilts will be on display in the McAlister Room at the Roosevelt County Fairground’s Jake Lopez Building as part of the festival which runs 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Merrick, who does all of her quilting by hand and creates most of her quilts from scraps, is humble about her work. “I’m just taking things that people throw away, and making something beautiful and usable,” she said.

Averaging eight stitches on a small needle, and 250 to 300 yards of thread per quilt, she has sewn her way to the moon and back.

Not surprisingly, Merrick has never bought a blanket or comforter.

“I just feel good under a quilt,” she says.

 Betty Williamson promises that the $3 festival admission fee (good for both days) is worth every penny. You may reach her at

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