While Klamath Falls weather might be snowy in February, Oregon State University assistant professor of horticulture Nicole Sanchez keeps plenty warm under one of the many quilts she sews every year. A passionate quilter and teacher, Sanchez began working for OSU Extension in 2016, spending most of her time focused on home and commercial horticulture.

But long before she was giving talks on Bronze Birch Borers or working on the Oregon Bee Atlas, Sanchez was a little girl, curled up in a corner of her grandmother’s sewing room, watching her work. Sanchez spent her summers at her grandparents’ home, learning how to garden from her grandfather, and picking up a passion for sewing from her grandmother.

“Quilting gives me an opportunity to use fabric as a canvas,” Sanchez said. “The opportunities for color and pattern combinations are endless.  I enjoy trying new techniques, shapes, gadgets. I usually have multiple projects going on at any one time.”

Sanchez’ quilting doesn’t just give her a sense of accomplishment, she actively seeks out ways to make her projects benefit others. She gives away most of the quilts she makes, often to organizations that can use them for fundraising. She sells a few a year to support her fabric habit as well.

“Each year I give a quilt to the local Master Gardener of the year. Now that I am getting to know them better, I am able to customize the quilts to their personalities, and they really appreciate that. I have also donated several quilts to our local 4H fundraisers and similar events.  Over the years I have shared quilts at community gardens, conferences, veterans’ events, and garden club events. I appreciate the opportunity to share them, because otherwise I would have way too many quilts.”

Sanchez has kept the first quilt she made, which she created at her grandmother’s house in the summer of 1988. She also still covets a quilt she made from the scraps and test blocks of six other quilts.

“It turned into this interesting modern art thing. I entered it in the county fair last summer, it got a ribbon, and it’s on my bed now.”

In life as in work, Sanchez is always interested in challenges. Her current quilt project is no exception.

“I am working on a custom design for a client- designed to match the southwestern décor in her home. The central panel is a landscape viewed through a window,” Sanchez said. “There are plants and vases on the window, and saguaro cacti in the distance. The outer border will be more traditional quilt squares with southwestern themes and colors. This one is really stretching my skills.”

While quilting bees still exist, the sewing groups in her area don’t always match Sanchez’s schedule, but even though she’s often a solitary seamstress, she’s taken advantage of the digital age and joined an online sewing circle instead.

“We share pictures of our work, encourage each other through tough projects, and ask technique questions,” she said.

Sanchez can put together a simple quilt top in about a day, and quilt it on the second day. More complicated patterns take significantly more time. Since putting together the tops is a bit more fun, she can get behind on actually completing the quilting process, and at one point had about 30 unfinished quilt tops, but she’s worked her way down to about a dozen now.

Much like the carpentry adage of measuring twice, cutting once, Sanchez has a similar philosophy for quilting.

“Always cut more pieces than the pattern calls for and make extra blocks. It is so frustrating to make a fatal mistake on a block late in the game and have to go back and re- cut 42 shapes to make a new one,” she said. “If you make extras, that stress is eliminated. If no blocks get messed up, the extras make great pillows or wall hangings.”

Sanchez also does jewelry making in her spare time, and has learned how to make loom hats, which she distributes along with a friend to children at local elementary schools. But her biggest passion remains quilting, and she has no plans of slowing down.

“I have this one quilting book of 1,000 modern blocks,” she said, “and I have little post-it tabs on at least a hundred blocks in that book alone.”

~ Theresa Hogue