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Quilter sews up a prestigious win; Celebrity autograph quilt nets $7,500 for animal refuge



Mandie Burrell half-heartedly scrolled through the list of winners posted on the American Quilter’s Society’s website.

Months earlier, her creation, “Birds in the Hand,” was a semifinalist at the AQS quilt show in Lancaster, Pa.

She’d shipped it off to another contest in Grand Rapids, Mich., but she wasn’t expecting much.

“I was going down the list, and then it said my name. I said, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’ I said it like 50 times,” said Burrell, who lives in King George. “My son said, ‘What? What’s wrong with you?’ ”

Burrell had won first place in the category for quilts made by machine.

Mandie Burrell’s quilt “Birds in the Hand” won first place in the prestigious American Quilter’s Society’s competition in Grand Rapids.

“I would never have imagined that my first blue ribbon for a quilt would be from an AQS event,” said Burrell, whose been competing for only three years.

The AQS sponsors several major shows each year that attract thousands of entries and visitors. Quilters from all over the world compete for $44,000 in prize money.

The Free Lance–Star profiled Burrell last September when her quilt “Simplicity” was a semifinalist in the AQS show in Des Moines, Iowa. It was the first time she’d entered a contest outside the local and state fairs.

This August, her quilt was judged alongside 357 others from 38 states and six foreign countries. The blue ribbon she earned in Grand Rapids is her highest honor yet.

“I’m still in a state of shock,” said the mother of three, who won $1,500.

“Birds in the Hand” is 5 feet wide by nearly 7 feet tall and features mostly green, white and red fabric. Many of the squares feature images of birds, and Burrell spent about a month stitching intricate designs all over the quilt.

Quilts are allowed to compete for two years before being retired. Because it won, “Birds in the Hand” can’t enter any other AQS events, but Burrell can submit it to other shows for another 18 months.

Meanwhile, she was so excited about winning that she got up at 5 a.m. the next day, pulled out her graph paper and started designing a new quilt.

“I want to bottle up that feeling,” she said. “It’s amazing.”




So many people were vying to win a quilt with 20 celebrity autographs on it that Melissa Felts, the quilt’s creator, had a hard time finding a container big enough to hold all the raffle tickets she sold.

She finally settled on an empty economy-sized cat litter tub—an appropriate choice considering the raffle was held to benefit Rikki’s Refuge, a 380-acre animal sanctuary in Orange County.

The raffle raised about $7,500 for the refuge, home to nearly 1,300 animals—from chickens, cats and dogs to pigs, calves and goats.

Nancy Schwall and John Bowman of North Stafford, volunteers at the refuge, were the lucky winners of the drawing, held Labor Day weekend.

Melissa Felts incorporated 20 celebrity autographs into this quilt, which was raffled off as a fundraiser for Rikki’s Refuge, an animal sanctuary in Orange County.

“We’ve never won anything like this before,” said Schwall, a quilter herself. “It was really amazing to me that we were selected.”

Bowman, who dresses up like Santa Claus for the refuge’s yearly Pictures with Santa fundraiser at PetSmart, figured it was a good cause so he bought 200 tickets.

Felts, who also volunteers at Rikki’s Refuge, said she sold tickets to people as far away as Australia and England. Many of them, she said, were Johnny Depp fans who wanted a blanket with his autograph on it.

“There’s going to be a lot of disappointed Johnny Depp fans out there,” she said.

Other signers included Betty White, Matt Damon, Bill Cosby, Sally Struthers and the late Elizabeth Taylor.

The winners agreed to let Felts enter the quilt in a few shows before taking possession of it.

“It’ll raise money and increase awareness because they’ll hear the story about the refuge,” said Schwall. “Eventually, I’ll need to find a place for it in my home. But for right now, it’s going on a road trip.”


Edie Gross: 540/374-5428