Navy vet tells fish tales, biking stories with fabric
Three weeks ago, Bruce Rahn of Orchard Mesa repacked the wheel bearings on his RV, preparing for his and his wife’s annual trip to Yuma, Ariz., where they spend the winter months. It’s a typical chore for the retired heavy equipment mechanic and U.S. Navy veteran.
Shortly after wiping the grease from his hands, Rahn entered his home’s sun porch, sat down at a table, picked up a sewing needle and carefully guided a strand of thread through its eye. His next goal was to finish hand-stitching a narrow binding to a table runner Rahn made during a class at Quilters’ Corner in downtown Grand Junction.
“I really want to get this finished, so I can take it to Yuma,” said Rahn, who plans to show off his project at a quilt guild there, where he stays active with his quilting hobby as a snowbird.
He’s in the minority among mostly female quilting enthusiasts (although his wife, Gail, isn’t one of them), but the art form draws Rahn like a magnet.
“I like taking a bunch of stuff and coming up with something; I just like to accomplish something,” he explained, even referring to his collection of fabrics as his “stash.” (Stash is a common term among quilters.)
Rahn’s first major project was a T-shirt quilt commemorating his years as a member of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association. From 1986 through 2000, he and his wife traveled to rallies around the country on their motorcycle.
Paging through a scrapbook, he recalls a 1994 trip to Albuquerque, N.M., and another to a Can-Am rally in British Columbia, covering many miles around Vancouver and coming back through California’s Napa Valley over a period of 15 days, often riding in the rain. The Rahns made many friends during their years in the association, so it seemed natural to sew 25 T-shirts he’d collected from various rallies into blocks.
“They kept migrating in and out of drawers,” Rahn said, until a solution came to him: stitch them together on his mother’s old Pfaff machine. He soon traded that cabinet model for a new portable Pfaff, and it travels with him to Yuma each winter.
Mostly through books, he taught himself the technique, ending up with a quilt that measured 72 inches by 72 inches in 2008. He hired a woman in Texas to quilt it on a longarm machine. Rahn proudly entered the quilt in the Mesa County Fair and received a second-place ribbon.
In 2009, he tried another technique, printing photographs on fabric, and made another large quilt for his daughter, Jo Vonna Schlosser, who lives in Alaska. The fabric photos feature various scenes of a hunting dog that belongs to his daughter and son-in-law. Rahn backed it with a flannel fabric that highlights wildlife and scenery resembling the North woods country.
He also backed one quilt with fleece fabric printed with tributes to the U.S. Navy, a nod to his own military service. Rahn said that’s where he first learned the mechanic trade. He then moved to Grand Junction from Denver as an apprentice railroad mechanic.
He later worked on trucks, retiring in 1999 from Colorado Kenworth. Since Rahn discovered quilting, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be bored during these retirement years.
Another hobby of his — fishing — turns up in at least a couple of his quilts. One titled “Hooked On Fish” showcases novelty fabric of fish and lures, and he’s proud of some quilt patches of salmon material that he purchased in Alaska. His most frequent fishing spot in this region is Ridgway State Park, but Rahn recalled a 2007 expedition to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at the tip of the Baja peninsula. He was most happy to have found fabric with scenes of that exact spot.
“I fished right there — in that area,” he said, pointing to an ocean vista on a quilt back.
Also in recent years, Rahn has enjoyed making two mystery quilts through Quilters’ Corner, which gives participants monthly instructions for quilt blocks, but doesn’t let them know what the finished product will look like until they’ve almost completed the quilt.
All the finished ones are shown together at a revealing party, and as Rahn said, it’s amazing to see how each quilt looks so different based on individual color choices.
The first mystery quilt was accepted for display at the Capitol Quilt Show in Denver, which is sponsored by the Colorado Quilting Council.
With only one formal quilting class and self-study, Rahn has managed to learn the principles of a venerable craft. Through it, he is telling the story of his life — one quilt patch at a time.