Touching tribute, stitch by stitch

DANVILLE – Two years after his wife’s death, Fred Stump made his way into her quilting room for the first time.

The room, untouched since Audrey Stump passed away in November 2008, was filled with quilting tops – 40 or more of them. They were ready to be finished. Stump couldn’t let these sit any longer.

He had to do something.

It was fall 2010, and the Danville man was still grieving his beloved bride. Since it had taken him two long years to even set foot in the room where his wife of 50 years spent much of her time, it was virtually untouched.

He carefully picked up her pieces of hand-sewn work. It couldn’t go to waste. It just couldn’t.

Stump’s granddaughter was there with him that day.

“I counted 43 quilted tops. All they needed was padding and quilting. I said to my granddaughter, ‘I need to do something with this.’ So I went to Hoover’s.”

Stump went to the well-known sewing shop, Hoover’s Bernina in Mifflinburg. There, the owners introduced Stump to a lady who could finish the tops. She finished two of the quilts for Stump.

“After they were done, I took them back (to the store) and told them, ‘These are gorgeous but I can’t afford to pay to get all of these done like that.'”

There was only one thing left to do.

Stump was going to learn how to sew them himself. Hoover’s set Stump up with a machine.

“And that was the start of my quilting,” he said.

He credits Hoover’s for the encouragement and help to make him the sewer he is today.

“They were a great help. They were the ones to teach me how to do this.”

Soon Stump was making Christmas stockings and money bags. He purchased a Bernina motion sewing machine with a frame in May 2011.

“I started to use it manually at first,” he said. A year later, in July 2012, he bought a computer for the machine that helped him do some of the work digitally.

“It’s now easier to do all of the quilting. But it’s not as simple as people might think. “

The 76 year-old man was soon taking quilting classes and showing off his work to a room full of mainly female quilters.

“The ladies said to me, ‘We can’t believe how you’re doing this.'”

Prior to this hobby Stump had never even picked up a sewing needle let alone operate a large sewing machine. The Danville man has a background in architectural design and woodworking and credits these skills for helping him to be a good quilter.

“I’m a perfectionist. It had to be perfect. I don’t give up.”

By fall 2013, 30 of the 43 tops were completed into quilts.

The women in the quilting classes told Stump they believed Audrey would be proud of his work.

It’s his love for his bride that still brings him to tears today when he talks about her.

Audrey was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes in 1999. It was supposed to be the year of Stump’s retirement. They were supposed to enjoy this time and Audrey was depressed at the diagnosis’ timing.

A year later, Stump said, she hit a period of remission and she went “full throttle” into her quilting. She did much of her work by hand but bought a sewing machine in 2006 that helped her speed her work along.

Things made a turn for the worst two years after that purchase. Audrey passed away Nov. 22, 2008 – her 68th birthday and the couple’s 50th anniversary.

It’s been five years since that day.

“It really gets to me,” Stump said, fighting back tears.

The husband and father of four daughters was devoted to Audrey during those nine years of her battle with cancer.

“I was by her side from ’99 until she passed away. I stuck with her like glue.” He said he watched her working on her sewing projects occasionally but never took a desire to learn how to do the work.

Stump has plans for his wife’s finished quilts. His goal is to get all 43 completed on his own before his own death.

He made a point to hang the tops in his family room, and he took individual pictures of each one. He numbered each picture and marked the measurement on the back of each photo. Stump wants to be sure not one top is missed and left incomplete.

Stump was proud to add he designed a top of his own and had it sewn together. “If you had told me when she died that I would be sewing these quilts, I would have said, ‘You’re kidding, man.'”

Stump plans to make sure his daughters get access to the quilts as well as his seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

“I’m in excellent health,” Stump said, and added he doesn’t plan on leaving this earth anytime soon.

“I’m always on the go,” he said. When he is not working on the quilts he can be found working on custom building cabinets or at his hunting cabin.

“This whole thing is sad,” he admitted, “because my wife has passed away. But I am just so happy to have followed in her footsteps. It’s a good job for me.”