By Barry Dalton
The Vandalia Area Historical Society (VAHS) will host the state’s Missouri Bicentennial Quilt on Memorial Day weekend, May 29-30.
Making the event extra special is that Vandalia was fortunate to have one of its long-time residents, Susan Masulit, chosen to create a block representing Audrain County.
“Vandalia is honored Susan Masulit’s block was selected to represent Audrain County in this project,” said Paul Ray, who is on the VAHS board.
The Missouri Bicentennial Quilt showcases all of Missouri’s 114 counties and St. Louis. As it travels across the state, the quilt shows the unique characteristics of Missouri culture and style.
VAHS will host a quilt show at the First Baptist Community Center on May 29, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., where the quilt will be displayed along with many other quilts. The quilt will also be on display at the museum on Sunday, May 30, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Masulit, 79, has lived in Vandalia since 1996. Originally from the St. Louis area, she served in the navy for two years in the early ‘70s when she met her husband, John, who was also in the Navy. Together they traveled the world before settling in Missouri after John retired from the Navy after working at the Pentagon. They moved to Vandalia to be closer to her daughter and her family, and to downsize for retirement.
Masulit got interested in quilting, she says, around the time of the U.S. bicentennial. She is mostly self taught, but she says her mother and grandmother were both artistic. Her grandmother did quilting and her mother became a painter in her senior years.
“My grandmother quilted,” Masulit said. “My mother sewed. She made most of our clothes, and she would give her scraps to my grandmother, and they showed up in a quilt that I refurbished and passed down.”
Many of Masulit’s walls in her home are tastefully decorated with quilts, interesting crafts from other artists, and some of her mother’s paintings.
“She liked to use different mediums and techniques, and those are ones she did to practice pen and ink,” said Masulit as she pointed to portraits of women from an earlier time. “She had leukemia, so she started painting a picture for each one of her four kids; there’s four of us. One sister has one that is unfinished. Every artist leaves an unfinished work.”
Many of Masulit’s quilts have a story behind them as well. She has one that she made to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary and another that has exactly 579 tiny blocks on it along with some fine embroidery.
A large floral quilt hanging on her living room wall, she calls a “scrappy quilt.” Although she usually follows patterns that she finds in magazines and old books, she also likes to add personal touches. Her scrappy quilt has small insects she integrated within the pattern.
Although some of her quilts are for sale, she hasn’t been able to take any to a show since 2019. However, she just finished one for the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home Strawberry Festival that will be available for auction on June 26.
Masulit says she has learned some of her quilting techniques by watching others. She learned to needle turn by watching a lady at the Mexico Quilt Guild.
“I watched her, and I got a good look,” said Masulit. “When you like it, you do it. One thing about quilting is that you can do it as perfect as you want or as sloppy as you want. It’s whatever you want to do.”
Her Audrain County quilt block is certainly an example of perfection, although she is too modest to say so. The 6-inch square represents the history of the county. There is an A is for Audrain, and gold coloring to represent the county’s history of mining. There is a 52 for being the state’s 52nd county, and a bee to represent honey harvesting. The bee was inspired by a story she read in a set of Vandalia history books published by the VAHS.
“The son climbed some vines to get honey and he cut the vines off and he fell flat on the ground, and he was laid up for a long time. Why would anybody cut the vines you’re climbing on?” she says with a chuckle.
There is also a rose because Audrain is the “rose of the prairie,” she says, and the print on some of the fabric has leaves and grass.
“There was so much prairie grass growing everywhere,” Masulit said. “They said it was so thick you couldn’t hardly walk through it.”
The fabrics used in the block were from “stash” that she has collected over the years.
She says she had not expected her block to be chosen for the bicentennial quilt but that it was an exciting honor.
“I enjoy quilting because you can control what you’re doing,” Masulit said. “You can’t control life, but you can control what you’re doing in quilting.”