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Embracing the challenge: Bettendorf quilter is always trying something different
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Embracing the challenge: Bettendorf quilter is always trying something different

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Many people who quilt find a technique or style they really like and perfect it, winning ribbons for the flawless quality of their work.

Diane Murtha, of Bettendorf, isn't that quilter.

"I will probably never win a blue ribbon because I never focus on one thing," she said. "My thing is challenges."

Challenges are competitions sponsored by quilt groups, magazines, fabric companies and other entities in which quilters are invited to create a quilt within certain parameters, such as theme, size, types of fabric, types of stitching and so forth.

And in this, Murtha excels. This month she had two challenge quilts on exhibition simultaneously at the prestigious National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.

Her 24-inch square "She Voted" was in an exhibit titled "Women's Right to Vote: Revolution and Evolution" that began Sept. 1 and ended Friday.

The exhibit was a challenge of the Dakota County Star Quilters of Eagan, Minnesota, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, assuring women the right to vote. The exhibit consisted of 36 small quilts from 16 states

"Cheetah" is in the "Inspired by Endangered Species: Animals and Plants in Fabric Perspectives" exhibit that began Oct. 9 and will continue through Jan 12. The exhibit includes 182 quilts and was a challenge by a group in Virginia.

"It's an honor to have one quilt exhibit at the museum, let alone two in two separate exhibits at the same time," according to a news release from the museum.

As with most quilters, Murtha started with traditional quilting, then gradually modified her patterns more and more, making her quilts unique and creating her own original designs. Over the past eight years, she has gravitated to art quilts, specifically participating in art quilt challenges.

"I don't have an art or design degree, but it seemed to open up so many more options for me," she said. "Every time I try something new I'm so much more excited about it."  

In addition to creating quilts, she lectures, conducts workshops and writes. An article titled Peaceful Quilting appeared in the September issue of American Quilter magazine and another titled Iowa's Hidden Treasures: Unfinished Quilts was in the Iowa Shop Hop summer issue.

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How she began

Murtha grew up in Davenport and first learned quilting from her grandmother.

During the summers, Murtha and her sister would visit Grandma Doris on her farm near Centerville, Iowa, where she taught them how to quilt, crochet and embroidery. Murtha's first quilt was a hand-pieced and tied quilt for her doll.

And Doris was something of a task-master. Murtha remembers her grandmother making her tear out her stiches and do them over.

Murtha took her first formal quilting class in the late 1980s, after  graduating from St. Ambrose College, Davenport, with a degree in accounting.

"From that moment on, I was hooked," she said. Although her work was in quality assurance as a civilian employee for the Department of the Army, she "snatched any quilting time I could get."

 Her career took her to Germany where she met her future husband Tim, a comptroller and active duty military, and then to the Washington, D.C., area of northern Virginia.

In between work and quilting, Murtha and her husband raised two sons and served as foster parents. At one time after their sons were grown, they opened their home to three siblings, aged 18 months (that is, still in diapers) to five years.

In 2016 they returned to the Quad-Cities after the sudden death of her father and she has since retired.

She and Tim still do foster care, though, licensed with the state to do respite and emergency care. They are called on about one night a week, on average.

"It helps keep you young," Murtha said.

That, and all those other challenges in her sewing room.

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