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After 153 quilts, the Bakers keep sewing for those in need

When Cynthia Baker’s husband, Topper, retired after many years as a court reporter, he joined her in her quilting projects and soon became enamored with the art. He now designs all their quilts. (Colin Mulvany)
When Cynthia Baker’s husband, Topper, retired after many years as a court reporter, he joined her in her quilting projects and soon became enamored with the art. He now designs all their quilts. (Colin Mulvany)

It all started with Cynthia Baker’s passion for embroidery. Her husband, Topper, bought her a small embroidery machine. Overwhelmed with caring for her aging mother-in-law, Baker found respite and escape.

“I embroidered everything in the house,” she said. “Towels, pillowcases ….” She even embroidered her mother-in-law’s shirts.

Eventually, Baker decided to make quilt blocks and take up quilting. She said, “Topper thought that was a great idea.”

In fact, he told her he’d like to help her. “I always thought I’d like to sew,” he said.

His wife looked at him and smiled. “He just blossomed!”

That was 153 quilts ago.

They began quilting together in earnest when Topper Baker retired in 2009 after 42 years as a court reporter. Cynthia Baker finally had time for a hobby, too. In addition for caring for her mother-in-law until she passed away, she also did all of Topper Baker’s court transcripts.

Currently, quilt No. 154, a work-in-progress, hangs in their sunny North Side sewing room.

They focus on crib-size or lap-size creations. Each completed quilt is tucked into a matching embroidered canvas bag and given away.

“We used to just give them to Crisis Pregnancy Center (now Life Services), but then we got so many,” Topper Baker said.

Now the couple donates quilts to Sally’s House, Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery and the Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care units at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, as well as Life Services. They have donated 19 quilts, this spring alone.

Topper Baker designs all of the quilts and does the cutting, sewing and quilting. Cynthia Baker comes up with the theme, and does the embroidery. She also chooses the fabric. “Topper’s color-blind,” she said.

Quilt themes include everything from butterflies to cows, angels to snowmen. Once Cynthia Baker has a theme, she chooses the fabric and the embroidery design. Topper Baker writes the sayings that adorn the embroidered blocks, often he chooses Scripture verses. “We put a lot of Scriptures on them because the Lord says his word will not return void,” Topper Baker said.

Then they decide on the size. “We try to keep our quilts at 35 to 40 blocks,” Topper Baker said. “Our quilts are unusual because most quilters don’t combine quilting and embroidery.”

Cynthia Baker pointed to a Noah’s Ark quilt. “There’s 110 embroidery stitches in this design,” she said. “We showcase the embroidery.”

She signs, numbers and dates each quilt, but only signs her name. Topper Baker prefers not to draw attention to his work.

The Bakers use state-of-the-art equipment, from a computerized embroidery machine to a heavy-duty longarm quilting machine. But even with modern machines, quilting is a time-consuming art.

They estimate it takes an average of 15 hours to complete a quilt. “But we don’t keep track,” Cynthia Baker said. “We just work.”

The couple admit they are foul-weather quilters. “If it’s crummy weather, we’re in here,” Topper Baker said.

But for the Bakers, time spent together is a joy. “We’ve been married 46 years,” Cynthia Baker said. “We just love to be together.”

Topper Baker added, “Being with my wife is the best part of my life. I try to get her to come downstairs to my woodshop!”

His wife asserts that one of his favorite places to go is a fabric store. Topper Baker shrugged. “I don’t think quilting makes me a sissy anymore than woodworking makes me a man.”

In addition to time-consuming, quilting is also quite expensive. The couple estimates they spend hundreds of dollars each year in fabric and supplies. But the joy of giving to others keeps them motivated.

Cynthia Baker writes “Jesus loves you!” on each quilt, near her signature.

“Most people who get our quilts are hurting,” Topper Baker said. Their quilts go to parents whose children are sick in the hospital, and children who’ve found refuge at Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery as well as expectant mothers at Life Services.

Topper said, “Hopefully our quilts will let people know the Lord is there for them – they are not alone.”

If you would like to donate fabric or supplies to the Bakers you can contact them at