Quilter & black walnut grower, Thurman
JoAnne Birkby, Quilter & black walnut grower, Thurman
Jo Ann Birkby grew up on a farm in Skidmore, Missouri. Her mother taught her to sew as a child, and she started when she was 6-8 years old. Years of 4H reinforced those home lessons, as did her parents’ tradition of quilting together. Jo Ann didn’t start quilting herself until 1981, when she and her husband, Jerry, put together an old quilt top that an aunt had made. Jo Ann asked her parents to quilt it for them, and that was the start of it all. Next came piecing butterfly quilt blocks that the aunt had made, which Jo Ann’s parents also put together for them. Jerry, who, as Jo Ann says, can do anything he puts his mind to, was eager to help with a cross-stitch quilt. Once it was done, Jerry insisted that the two of them quilt it and not her parents. The layered the quilt top, the batting, and the lining; pinned everything together with safety pins instead of basting stitches; placed it in the quilting frame, and got going. Jo Ann says they’ve never had a quilt come out so perfectly straight since.
“That’s the reason we got started. Once it grabs you, it doesn’t let go easily!”
Since then, Jo Anne and Jerry Birkby had made 27 big quilts and 18 small ones—and they’re still counting. The two make it a joint project and use both patterns and sometimes design their own. Piecing is not Jo Ann’s favorite thing to do; the actual stitching of the quilting patterns is. “That’s what makes a quilt a quilt. And that’s what we enjoy doing the most.”
The couple also planted 40-50 black walnut trees many years ago and has a small business harvesting the tasty nuts. For their own use, they follow the tradition of hulling the walnuts by spreading them out on their driveway and running their pickup over them. The next step is to dry the hulled nuts, so they won’t get moldy. Once the walnuts are cured, Jerry cracks them with a hammer on an anvil while Jo Ann picks out the meats with a traditional nut picker. You have to learn how to go into the nuts and not tear them apart, a skill she is teaching her grandchildren. “They last about 2 minutes but they get a taste of it. They’ll always remember they can pick out walnuts if they get hungry.”Contact: Jo Anne Birkby, 2144 Buffalo Rd, Thurman, IA 51654, 712/374-2798