SKOWHEGAN — A group of local quilters is responding to a NASA astronaut’s request to join in making a giant star-themed space quilt that will include the first example of quilting in outer space.

In November, astronaut Karen Nyberg completed a nine-by-nine inch red, white and blue star-shaped quilt block while on board the International Space Station. The square will be stitched together with other nine-by-nine-inch submissions from around the world, including nine squares made by members of the Somerset Samplers, a Skowhegan-based quilting guild, and will be on display at an international quilting festival in Houston, Texas, before finding a permanent home on display at NASA headquarters.

“I’ve discovered several challenges cutting, piecing, stitching and weightlessness, but it was made in space and I’ll be bringing it back with me when I return to Earth,” Nyberg says in a YouTube video about quilting in space, her long blond hair standing straight up as she attempts to cut the floating material.

“I’m inviting all of you to create your own star-themed quilt blocks that we can combine with my block to help create a quilt for the international quilt festival, where I hope to make a special appearance,” she says.

Her message has been heard by hundreds of quilters around the world — close to 600 squares have already been submitted — including members of the Somerset County group, who say it is not unusual for quilters to work on group projects such as the space quilt.

Last month the group, which has about 40 members and meets twice a month at Pinwheels Quilting in Skowhegan, completed 26 quilts for donation to the Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County. They also have a sister quilting guild in Cookeville, Tenn., with whom they have collaborated on quilts by exchanging blocks and borders through the mail.


“It’s a common thing to participate in group activities, whether it is within our own group, with our sister group or even over the Internet,” said Carmen Dickinson, president of the Somerset Samplers.

The Somerset group heard about Nyberg’s project on the news, watched her video and immediately wanted to participate.

“We’re a very active group. We like to do anything that will challenge our imaginations,” said Cathy Lonnquist, 61, of Norridgewock.

Nyberg returned from the space station in November, but was unavailable for an interview Friday, according to a NASA representative. She began sewing as a child growing up in the small town of Vining, Minn., and continues to enjoy sewing and quilting, including when she is in space, according to her profile on the NASA website.

Houston, in addition to being the site of NASA headquarters, is also home to the International Quilt Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the art of quilting. The organization hosts an annual International Quilt Festival that in November will be celebrating its 40th anniversary and will showcase quilts from around the world. Among them will be the space quilt, a special exhibit that Nyberg is helping the organization put together.

The deadline to submit squares is Aug. 1, and close to 600 entries from around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, England and Ireland, have been submitted, according to Rhianna Griffin, a spokeswoman for the International Quilt Festival.


Exactly how they will all be sewn together hasn’t quite been figured out yet, but Griffin said they have received a variety of interpretations from traditional to abstract stars.

“We’ve had quilts from all kinds of cultures, but this will be the first example of quilting made in space,” she said.

The space quilt is also a rare opportunity for the Somerset Samplers to get their work included in one of the premier events in the world of quilting. Most of the members of the group who made squares say they don’t plan on traveling to Houston for the festival, but Nadine Villani, of Solon, has submitted a quilt that she hopes will be accepted into the festival.

“If it does, I will probably definitely go to Houston,” she said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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