Laura Nehring demonstrating rug braiding at Rural Urban Day 1976, Nevada, Iowa.
My grandmother, Laura Nehring (1911-2004), was my needlework roll model. She started me on my first embroidery when I was spending a week at her house one summer when I was about 10 years old. She gave me seven flour sacks and showed me how to use Aunt Martha’s iron on transfers to stamp “seven days of the week” designs on the flour sacks for dish towels for my mother for Christmas. Then we went to town and bought Coats and Clark embroidery floss for 5 cents a skein. Back on the farm, she showed me how to work a simple back stitch.
Born Laura Lydia Fricke in 1911 to Frederick and Elizabeth Fricke, she was the fifth of thirteen children on a large farm. As she became older, she shared many of the routine chores of a farm — milking cows, churning butter, making soap and bread. The five oldest children were all girls so, during harvest season, the girls even helped pick corn by hand until mechanized corn pickers became available.
Laura attended school through the 8th grade (about 1917-1925). It was located 4 miles north of State Center, Iowa. French Grove was a parochial school associated with St. John’s Lutheran Evangelical Church which her grandparents, Christian and Caroline Fricke, and four other families founded in 1868 shortly after they homesteaded in the area. The schoolhouse and church were destroyed in a fire in the 1950s. The church was rebuilt but the school was not.
There were so many children in the family that it was really a challenge to make sure that there were enough blankets and covers for everyone in the days when bedrooms were not heated, even in winter. Quilts were used for everyday blankets. Her mother would get together with neighbor ladies to quilt and the girls learned to help make quilts at these get togethers. Laura made her first “solo” quilt when she was about 16 or 17. It used the Jacob’s Ladder pattern and was made from yellow and white Nutrina chicken feed sacks with a third layer of sacks for the batting.
Laura married Ernest Nehring in 1932. While rearing 4 children and running a household on a farm in nearby Colo, IA, she was still able to devote a portion of her time to her creative interests which included quilting, crochet, braid and hooked rugs, knitting, and gardening (the huge vegetable garden was considered a necessity but the flower garden wasn’t). On a lark, Laura entered four of her creations in the 1966 Iowa State Fair. She came home with three ribbons that year… and ribbons every year for the next 20 years.
She is best remembered for her quilting. She hand quilted over 200 quilts in her lifetime. Sometimes she quilted tops others has pieced, sometimes she pieced or appliquéd her own tops from a pattern, and sometimes she created original designs of her own. One quilt in particular, her Schoolyard Quilt, demonstrates her creative genius and showcases a variety of techniques that she used.