Six decades of quilting
Last updated 7/11/2023 at 2:36pm
An afternoon spent listening to Kathie Olson talk about her life as a quilter was filled with fun stories, amazing creativity, and great humor expressed when considering her long dedication to the art and craft of quilting.
Olson said her sewing machine died years ago and she just never replaced it. For all the years since the machine's demise, Olson has hand-stitched every bit of every quilt to create professional pieces that are a feast for the eyes.
Studying her quilts, one sees attention to detail, with the finest embroidery, delicate tatting, and often a bit of whimsy that brings forth a smile or chuckle from the observer.
At 83 years old, Olson's quilts now are smaller pieces that are more manageable for her to work on. In the past, some of her quilts have been large masterpieces showcasing intricate details. One such quilt had 2,208 pieces of applique. She often incorporates special antique or unusual buttons and trim which friends know she will use, so they save them for her.
A Nebraska native, Olson began her college years as an art major at Boise Junior College (now Boise State University), transferring to Oregon State and a major in elementary education. While at OSU she worked in the college library.
On a blind date at OSU, she met her future husband, Ron Olson, who was ready to graduate and leave for the army. Kathie graduated the same year and took a teaching position in San Jose, California, where she also oversaw the school library. Ron wasn't very far away at Fort Ord.
Ron and Kathie were married in 1961, and moved to Warm Springs, where they lived in faculty housing while Kathie taught school and Ron farmed with his dad on the Agency Plains. Kathie's first pregnancy meant she had to quit teaching, so she and Ron moved into a house on one of the farms he and his dad were renting. That was the beginning of their life together in Jefferson County, where Kathie would eventually work as the librarian at Metolius Elementary School while Ron grew grass for seed, along with peppermint, wheat, and specialty seed crops. He also owned Olson Seed, Inc., which he had started with his father.
The Olsons had two more children, giving them a son and two daughters. They farmed from 1962-2006, during which Kathie began her lifelong affair with quilting. When their youngest (son Link) was a baby, she made him bibs out of Ron's red bandanas so he could look like his dad. She also created Advent calendars with peppermints for each day of the holiday season.
"I got bored with farm life, so I turned our seldom used living room with a view of the mountains into my quilt studio," she said. "For my first quilt, I drew my own design out on butcher paper, and set up a quilting frame."
After her sister in Boise died of cancer, Olson created three quilts for her sister's children, incorporating the T-shirt logos from the song camps her music teacher sister had run.
Kathie and Ron enjoyed the music of Cindy and Reno Holler, and after one of their performances she commented how much she liked Reno's tie. He gave it to her, and she returned it to him soon after as part of a quilt.
For 30 years, Olson served on the Jefferson County Library Board. She was a member of the Magic Frog Puppet Theater, which she started with four friends from the United Methodist Church choir in Madras, and they gave voice to the puppets singing "Sweet Adeline" music. She is a longtime member of the High Desert Quilt Guild in Redmond and took a variety of classes over the years at Stitchin' Post. Her interest in quilting goes back to her grandmother, who made her a quilt for her bed that Olson sleeps under today.
In 2006, the Olsons sold their farm and moved to Eagle Crest, where Kathie could be seen riding her blue bike through the neighborhood. In her apartment now she has a small Kermit the Frog riding a blue bike – commemorating her days with the Magic Frogs and her blue bike.
Olson's quilts can be found all over Central Oregon at places like the KIDS Center in Bend and Faith, Hope & Charity winery. Her quilts have been donated for fundraisers and auctions to St. Charles, the KIDS Center, and many other organizations.
When Ron moved into Country Side Living memory care as their first resident, Kathie made bibs for him with a pocket crafted from a Crown Royal whiskey bag. They were a big hit and she was soon making them for other residents as well.
Kathie lost Ron to Alzheimer's five years ago. Now 83 years old, she lives in an independent living cottage in Redmond but will be moving to Portland this August to be closer to her children.
A sample of Olson's artful creations will be on display on Quilt Show Saturday in front of Beacham's Clock Company on the corner of West Hood Avenue and South Oak Street at 300 W. Hood Ave.