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Carrie LeMaster

Art form: Quilting.

Best known for: “Rescued Denim Quilts” made from recycled jeans.

Major influence: “My mother, Helen Meyer. She had the ability to create beautiful and useful items from discarded materials.”

When did you start quilting? “As a child growing up on a small family farm in southern Idaho near Buhl, I learned that we never wasted anything,” says LeMaster.

One of the chores for the women in the family was to make quilts from old clothing.

“In fact, I can remember my grandmother making the most beautiful crazy quilts out of old wool coats,” she says. “My mother still has one.”

Most of the time, the family used the heavy, wool quilts to cover their laps and legs while riding in the farm vehicles during the winter. “Those old cars didn’t have heaters back then,” recalls LeMaster.

“As a kid, what I enjoyed the most was cutting my father’s old bib overalls into squares and making quilts,” she says. “We used them on our beds in the winter and on the ground for picnics in the summer.”

Contemporary quilts: In recent years LeMaster decided to carry on the old family tradition of making quilts from recycled clothes when she started seeing colorful denim jeans in thrift stores.

“There are so many brilliant colors these days,” she says.

She has made more than 100 “rescued denim” quilts – most given to family and friends as gifts, or as donations to charity auctions.

Process: LeMaster collects used denim jeans from family, friends, garage sales, thrift stores and even from the garbage bins at the mission where she volunteers.

She cuts the jeans into squares, saving the pockets. When starting a new quilt, she selects her colors, then a pattern.

After creating the top quilt pattern, she makes a flannel back out of a complementary color and inserts a polyester filling. All three layers are stitched together.

Until recently, she had stitched and tied all the quilts by hand.

“A couple of months ago my husband bought me a quilting machine,” she says, “so now I do a combination of machine stitching and hand work.”

What keeps you creating? “I’m addicted to creating,” laughs LeMaster. “One of my daughters, Ingrid Miller of Wenatchee, when looking at the nearly 2,000 pair of jeans I have, remarked ‘Mom, you are sick.’ In the next breath she said, ‘Can I inherit them?’ ”

What’s ahead? One of the quilts LeMaster made as a gift was for the Rev. Dr. Tshenuwani and Regina Farisani of South Africa.

Tshenuwani Farisani, a former Apartheid prisoner, is currently the Speaker of Limpopo Parliament and Regina Farisani works in education.

In 2005 Le Master traveled with her daughter and son-in-law, a Lutheran minister, on visit to Venda, a small area in the northeastern corner of the Soutpansberg in the Limpopo.

“They now want me to return to teach quilting classes to local women,” she says. “They have beautiful fabric there, and learning basic quilting might give them ideas for a home-based business and a chance for self-sufficiency.”

LeMaster is planning to return to Venda in 2008 with a couple of other quilters.

“I’ve fallen in love with their culture and the people,” she says. “I’m 66-years old, and it’s wonderful to know there are still lots of things to do.”