The Quirky Quilters in Oscoda already was 90 members strong when its 91st member decided to join the group a few years ago. Even with such a large guild, that newest quilter stood out conspicuously amongst all the others. As a retired millwright from the Ford Rouge Plant in Dearborn, the now 73-year-old Gerald Brauer held the distinction of being the only guy in the group.
"In order to show off my work there, I had to join the guild," said Brauer, who resides in Oscoda but winters in Texas with his wife, Linda.
Brauer has been quilting in earnest for the last eight years and is a multiple award winner. Currently, he has a display of his quilts on exhibit at the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan. The exhibit includes one of his favorites, Tequilla Sunrise, which features 320 points done with the paper piecing method in variations of purple fabric.
"That one got me a blue ribbon at the Alcona County Fair," Brauer said.
He made his initial foray into quilting more than 30 years ago, when the mother of a girl he was dating at the time talked him into doing a quilt with applique leaves on it. The relationship ultimately didn't work out, and Brauer said he didn't think about quilting again until several decades later when a sister's daughter was getting married.
He decided at that time to make a quilt for his niece, and since she was getting married in Texas, Brauer chose to applique four boots, four tall hats, four outlines of the state of Texas and for steer horns onto the quilt. The one-of-a-kind gift also featured a block with the Alamo appliqued on it.
Brauer next picked up a quilting project he found in a quilting store.
"It was a calendar book where every day was a different block," he said. "It struck my interest. My goal was to make the whole year of blocks, but everything got in the way. I only got a month and a half of it done."
Instead, he turned his attention back to the original appliqued leaf quilt he had made all those years ago, and decided to create a new version of the same pattern for each of his three children.
Brauer realizes it is unusual for a guy to take up quilting. He said he retired from his job in 1999 and came to live full-time in the Oscoda area near where he had been vacationing for years. He considers himself skilled in a number of different areas, including carpentry.
"I've always been a carpenter at heart," he said. "I make some furniture, books cases, picture frames and other odds and ends."
It was while wintering in Texas that Brauer really increased his knowledge and interest in quilting by taking classes for two years.
"In Texas there are so many hobbies to learn. I took up stained glass, and then quilting took over," he said.
His Diamond Log Cabin Quilt, on exhibit at the Besser Museum, is another award winner. Made of 1,200 pieces of fabric, it took a first place in the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Guild Show in Texas. Originally, the finished piece was supposed to be a square-shaped table topper, but Brauer modified it into an octagon to allow for more log cabin diamonds.
Another of Brauer's favorite projects on display in Alpena is a massive 50 United States Stars Quilt. It took him 500 hours of work to complete. The overall quilt sports 3,625 separate pieces of fabric, including 3,500 just for the 50 stars signifying each state. The state of Michigan alone has 128 pieces and four hours of sewing time.
Brauer said there are 74,000 embroidered stitches on the finished project, which is 12 feet long by seven feet tall. He relied on Cathy Hughes of Gaylord for the finishing quilting stitches. He also credits his wife for being extremely helpful, especially when it comes to fixing his mistakes.
The exhibit also shows a paper-pieced work in progress which Brauer plans to finish up starting in October, since his quilting time is relegated mostly to the fall and winter months of the year. His exhibit at the Besser Museum will remain on display through Oct. 9.