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Catonsville woman's work quilting worthy of Hall of Fame

Catonsville woman to be inducted into quilters hall of fame

When a pregnant Mimi Dietrich sat down to sew her future son a baby quilt 40 years ago, she had no idea she was changing the course of her life.

In 1974, Dietrich, a trained teacher, thought she would sew the quilt, stay at home with her son for a couple of months and then eventually return to work as an English instructor. Instead, she became one of the most widely published quilting book authors and, as of later this month, a member of the Quilters Hall of Fame.

"I feel very blessed. I feel very grateful," Dietrich, 68, said. "I'm being honored for doing something that I love to do."

"You just never know what's going to happen in life," added the lifelong Catonsville resident.

After finishing her first quilt — a yellow and blue pattern with a pair of Sunbonnet Sues and Overall Bills — she took a job at a pre-school.

In her spare time, she began to write a book about finishing the edges of quilts, which was eventually picked up and published.

"I thought that was it," she said. But at a trade show selling her book, her publisher asked her when her next book would be ready for print.

"I didn't think there was a next," she said.

But there was. And after that, there were 15 more books, along with lectures and classes.

In 2013, she even helped lead a project sewing a life-size replica of the original Star-Spangled Banner for the Baltimore's bicentennial event honoring Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 and the writing of the country's national anthem. In what she describes as one of her favorite sewing experiences, Dietrich, along with a team of other volunteers, got to hoist the flag over the fort on Defender's Day and even unfurl it in front of a packed house at Camden Yards.

"It was amazing. It was just amazing," she said. "To me, it was just the neatest project ever."

On July 18, there will be a Hall of Fame induction.

Dietrich learned early on in her quilting career about Baltimore's connection to the history of quilting. In the 1840s and 1850s, she said, Baltimore Album Quilts were a trademark of the city. With easy access to fabric from all over the world, residents of Baltimore were known for sewing elaborate applique quilts, often with the help of friends and family members. In the 1980s, Dietrich attended an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art focused on the city's rich history of quilt making. For Dietrich, it was enough to convince her she was never going back into teaching.

"It's very much a part of Baltimore's history," said Dietrich, whose house is decorated with images of the Baltimore skyline and Maryland crabs. "I just fell in love with these quilts."

Today, she lectures and provides instruction on applique quilting. Her in-person classes often fill up, her online course has recorded some 30,000 students watching, she said, and one of her books, "Happy Endings: Finishing the Edges of Your Quilt," is publisher That Patchwork Place's all-time best-seller, according to Barnes & Noble.

In 2013, she was named International Association of Professional Quilters Teacher of the Year.

Dietrich will be the 46th inductee into the Quilters Hall of Fame, in Marion, Ind., said hall museum manager Deb Geyer. Nominated by a student, Dietrich was selected because of the impact she has had on the world of quilting, Geyer said.

"She encourages her students so much," Geyer said. "She makes it seem easy. She makes it seem fun."

At the induction, Dietrich will be presented with a medal and a plaque from the Hall of Fame. In addition to her family, a neighbor and 50 friends and students will be making the trip to Indiana to watch the ceremony, said Dietrich.

"It's going to be fun," she said.

Recently, she has been watching as teacher friends of hers have been retiring. Each of them, she said, is so grateful to be done and able to finally have time to do what they want. For Dietrich, it has validated the decision she made 40 years ago to throw herself into quilt making rather than return to the job she thought she was supposed to have.

"I've got the perfect job for me," she said.

If it ever happens, retirement for her will probably still involve sewing quilts, just not for show, she said.

"I'll cut back maybe," she said. "But probably not."

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