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Three years ago in 1995, I was casually flipping through quilt magazines seeking some inspiration for a
quilting project. I found an ad for a one on one block exchange for United States quilt blocks. This
sparked my interest to do a large centralized exchange so everyone involved would receive a block
from all 50 states and not just the organizer. This meant organizing fifty quilters to complete a total of
2500 quilt blocks.

I received names of seven quilters from this ad and I was off to the quilt shop to buy my fabric. My
enthusiasm was short lived. One of these quilters wanted to do an overlay block. My guidelines
specifically said only pieced blocks so I turned her down. She was rather upset and wrote me a very
disturbing letter. I got discouraged and considered dropping the project.

After a few weeks I contacted my friend, Wendy Smith who agreed to help me. We started mailing
letters to guilds asking for members to join our exchange. Eventually Wendy got an Internet account and
started placing ads on quilting bulletin boards. Gradually we filled up all 50 states. Wendy sent out
fabric samples so everybody’s blocks would be compatible in color and we requested history forms on
all participants. These forms told us about the quilters and why they chose or designed their state block.

When all history forms were returned, I mailed my Virginia blocks to all participants with a 5 inch muslin
signature block for everyone to sign. These blocks were for my son Sean to sew together for his 5th
grade project. I was touched by the workmanship of these blocks. Some quilters added charms,
buttons and some were even appliqued. Sean was thrilled and thanked everyone with a 20 million year
old sharks tooth from his collection of fossils, which he collects from the shores of the Potomac River.
Many thanked him in return and Pat Knight from Iowa made a special pocket in her 50 state quilt just
for the tooth.

Many things evolved during the two and a half years of our exchange. We decided on doing two extra
red, white and blue quilt blocks each, one for charity to raise money for breast cancer and one for a
quilt museum. Before the charity quilt is used in any fund raising activities we would like to fill the back
with names of breast cancer survivors and victims. If you would like to add any names to this quilt
please contact me through my Charity web site at

Wendy and I thought it would be great fun to have everyone come to Stafford Virginia to help sort the
2500 blocks and sew the two charity quilts. We had representatives from 14 states come, with the
furthest from Utah. We had an incredible time of friendship and sharing. Pam Millwood from Tennessee
said she was surprised the sheriff was not called to investigate the noise of laughter coming from my
house that weekend.

One of the stories that created this laughter was that of Jeri Bordine of Oklahoma. We learned that Jeri
had never bought fabric before, since she always used her Grandmother’s scraps. She came home from
the the quilt shop with enough fabric for 50 quilts, not 50 blocks. She did not realize it until she had
sewn 48 blocks and looked around her at the boxes of unsewn squares and triangles. Jeri was great fun
at our get together. It was worth all the extra fabric for her to bring that story to our group.

A very special friend of mine, Pam Crosby, was my e-mail contact throughout the project. Since
everyone sent us a sample block, Pam was able to create a web site with pictures of these blocks. The
excitement increased as the blocks come forth on the Internet. As the web site grew, the physical miles
between us diminished. The web site was a great motivator and it unified our group. Out of gratitude for
her efforts, we each made Pam a state quilt block and presented them to her at our exchange.

Even with the web page, we had three states not follow through with their commitment. Fortunately, the
following guild members from Stafford Piecemakers took over the remaining states: Linda McNeil,
Heather Ronk and Jane McGovern did Alabama, Pat Fitzpatrick did Missouri and Jessica Polley did
Rhode Island. Without the help of these ladies, the 50 state quilt exchange would not have been

We had many everyday life events happen during our exchange. Wendy summed it up with this
statement. "The life stories along the way have been absolutely amazing. There has been trials and
tribulations among us. There has been joys and accomplishments. We have seen several births,
sicknesses, divorces, separations, moves and job changes. One of our participants passed away. Her
quilt guild took over and finished the blocks. To me that is what quilting is all about. What it has been
for generations and generations. It is the coming together and sharing. Sharing our talents....teaching and
learning. Sharing our joys and our sorrows. It has been an incredible journey."

Our Montana participant was the Tender Loving Quilt Guild. Kay Jones, who was our contact for the
guild, passed away from cancer in the middle of the exchange. Their new president, Deanise
Killingsworth, took over the project and kept it alive. Their guild dedicated their Montana block to
Kay, so her dedication and love of this project will always be remembered.

Barbara Bauser from Kentucky won our award for Most Inspirational Block. Barbara designed her
block to represent the love of those who helped the 1997 Kentucky flood victims. She was worried
that her blocks were not up to our standards. She confessed, "I almost burned the blocks, faking an
accident, and getting out of the exchange. My friend encouraged me to finish saying that if the people
got in it just for expertise, then they don't understand the whole concept of a friendly exchange."

Our New York participant, Marjorie Mittleman also came to her defense and said "This exchange was
about friendship and bonding with 49 women all over the country, not if your points met. It means so
much more to me than an exchange." At the beginning of our exchange, Marjorie was in the process of
a painful divorce and she told our group that "My blocks are symbols of me putting my life back
together and feeling good about my self again. Quilts tell a story." You may learn more about each quilt
block and our group’s awards by visiting our web site at:

This has been an unique experience working with such a creative group of quilters. Wendy and I are
forever grateful for their dedication and support throughout our exchange. Just as different fabrics are
joined with a common thread to create a blanket of warmth, our group has been joined by a common
thread of friendship through our fifty quilts. These friendships will always be treasured along with our
quilts. I am in the process of organizing an International quilt block exchange with 60 participants and I
am finding just as many new friends from around the world as I did in our 50 state block exchange.

We have had a lot of support from our group with this project. I would like to thank the following:
Wendy Smith from Pennsylvania my co-organizer.
Pam Crosby our web site creator.
Vicki Fallon from New Jersey compiled all the history forms
Joyce Neyers from Minnesota quilted the charity and museum quilts.
Kathryn Bunch from Texas suggested our recipe booklet.
Pam Millwood from Tenessee came up with our name "NIFTY FIFTY'".
Rena Tolbert from Delaware made extra blocks for our charity and museum quilts.
Marjorie Mittleman from New York organized the awards and prizes for our group.
Merryvale Fabrics donated fabric for the backing of the charity and museum quilts.
Quilt Patch in Fairfax Virginia donated the battings.

Since our Nifty Fifty exchange was completed two other groups have followed in our footsteps. Please e-mail
me if you would like to host a new Nifty Fifty group, be placed on a waiting list for a future group, or start
an international exchange. I would love to guide you through the process as I have done with other quilters.

The current Nifty Fifty groups are also making breast cancer charity quilts. We would like to raffle or auction
these quilts nationally since quilters from all fifty states have stitches

intertwined in each one of these quilts Please contact me if you know of any groups willling to take these
quilts on tour throughout the country to collect names of breast

cancer victims and to raise money for Breast Cancer Research. Until then I will be accepting names to add
onto these quilts through my e-mail address at

My international group called Twenty Plenty is progressing well with sixty-five participants representing over
40 countries from around the world. We will also be making two extra quilts. One quilt will be another Breast
Cancer Charity Quilt and the second quilt will be donated to a quilt museum in memory of all Breast Cancer
victims. We will be sorting our blocks and sewing these quilts together as we did in our Nifty Fifty group.
We will be placing a picture of our international quilts on our web site at: www.niftyfiftyquilters.

© 1999 Teresa Drummond
Reprinted in NQA June 1999 issue
nifty fifty quilters of america
History of Nifty Fifty Quilters
50 State Quilt Block Swap
By Teresa Drummond
Copyright 2011 Teresa Drummond
All Rights Reserved
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