By Jackie Nelson
At nearly 90-years old, artist Ethel Abrahams has completed over 200 hand-made works of art made of fabric and fiber. The seamstress said she grew up under her mother’s quilting rack, threading needles for her mother before she could go outside and play. A professional quilter, Ethel’s mother, Helena, introduced her daughter to the world of creating with needle and thread. Ethel moved out of the family home, married and had children. When her children entered school, she decided to pursue a higher education, earning a bachelors of arts degree from Bethel College and a master’s degree in art from Wichita State University. “She did this all while raising us kids,” said Ethel’s daughter, Nadine Abrahams. “I never missed a beat. I was always home when they got home,” said Ethel. After earning her degrees, Ethel continued to raise her family and encouraged her children to explore art and music. She said she was sure to reward their efforts, and provided an example of how to practice one’s craft. “My husband and I were determined the children would read music and took piano lessons. When they went to practice, I would work on a sweater that I knitted. This girl [Nadine] has the most sweaters,” she said. On road trips, Nadine said her mother would stop along the way at antique stores and quilt shops, searching for fabrics. “My husband was a good sport about that. He would take golf clubs and a portable bicycle. He would meet someone else in the same situation and they would play golf together,” said Ethel. As her children grew and left home, Ethel continued to look for ways to put her talents to work. However, she had not quilted for quite some time, saying she was not confident in her abilities, after growing up with a professional quilter. At age 65, she began quilting again. “I had an art degree and quilting seemed the logical thing, and I loved fibers and different colors,” she said. Nadine, a school librarian, was a source of inspiration for some of Ethel’s most unique creations. “Every year we had a different academic theme. She would take off from there with her own ideas and how to interpret the theme,” she said. Ethel then presented the children with an artistic quilt-size wall hanging that adorned the library throughout the school year. “They were all my own designs. They just told me what the theme would be,” she said. From hot air balloons and butterflies to deep-sea visions, Ethel’s pieces became more and more complex and detailed. Ethel said creativity came naturally. “Traditional quilts, I thought, were boring. I’ve made over 200 quilts, including wall hangings. And, I don’t like to repeat myself,” she said. The results of not repeating traditional patterns led Ethel to delve into adding three dimensional elements to her quilts and wall hangings.