Christine Berndt Althaus
Dietetic Services Director,
Wisconsin Department of Corrections
Born In: Milwaukee
Lives In: Madison, Wisc.
Two Children: Aaron, 20, and Adam, 19
Christine Berndt Althaus, dietetic services director at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in Madison, started quilting in college but put her sewing materials away when she started a family. Twenty years later she picked quilting back up. Althaus talks to FSD about her hobby, which she says she loves because you can take something old and make it into something new.
“I started quilting when I was in college because my older sister had discovered it. When I started a family, I packed everything away because you don’t want your babies to get into your sewing stuff. Now I’ve gone full circle and my kids are grown and I can do more things. I’ve kind of had a resurrection of a hobby that I really enjoyed earlier in life.
It was two winters ago when I got back into quilting. We had astronomical record-breaking snowfall, so we were very much cabin bound. I thought to myself, ‘what would the pioneer women do when they were stuck inside,’ and I realized I had a quilt in the cabin that I had started 20 years ago and had never finished. I got it out and finished it. That was a queen-sized log cabin quilt.
I am mostly self-taught and then I took a few classes. You take a class or two and you realize how much you don’t know. There are so many techniques. There are the more traditional ones and the modern art ones. The modern art quilts are never intended to ever be used on a bed but to be put up on a wall. There is a wide range of opportunities there. I can make 100 quilts and they would all be different.
My favorite quilt I’ve ever made is a food quilt because of the colors. I had seen something like it in a local quilt shop and, being a dietitian I thought, ‘I’ve got to have that.’ I collected the fabrics over a year’s time and finally sat down and started cutting and piecing and it came together really quickly. I’ve used it for health fairs. It’s nice because it is a great conversation piece. People approach your table and rather than asking them if they have eaten five to nine fruits and vegetables today they come up and look at the quilt and we start talking. It’s a natural icebreaker.
The food quilt is a two-block quilt, so the first block is a patterned block and the second is a fruit or vegetable. The pattern is nine squares—three by three—and each square alternates between red and white so it’s like a checkerboard. The non-pattern square is a solid block. I had about 20 different food fabrics—peas, carrots, apples, green beans, etc.—and I used that fabric for those squares.
It probably took me about 40 hours to make it. That’s a smaller quilt. It was about 50 inches by 40 inches. That’s not a full-size quilt but a crib-sized quilt.
I have this romantic image of pioneer women and men. I like the fact that they could make their own supplies and they used and reused what they had in creative ways. For example, they would take an old pair of worn-out pants, cut that up and put it into a quilt that was fully functional and attractive. That’s why I love quilting.
Around the time that I renewed my interest in quilting, a local radio station sponsored a recycled art show. I designed my sun and wind quilt for the show. It has a black background that represents a solar panel. The quilt has individual blocks, which are based on modern day windmills. The color distribution represents the sun's energy. The only thing I used on this project that wasn't recycled was the thread. The rest was made from fabric scraps, repurposed clothing and linens.”