Aunt Max and the Iris Quilt

Susan Wildemuth, Atkinson, IL


Margaret Sherbeyn

Geneseo, Illinois


I met Aunt Max at my wedding some 28 years ago, but we would really not get to know one another until she was in the twilight years of her 80s and I was 40-something.  A retired farm wife and widow, Aunt Max is my mother-in-law’s aunt and my husband’s Great Aunt and honestly they broke the mold when they created Margaret Sherbeyn.  They said “This petite Belgian-Catholic lady is as close to perfect as we are going to get.  Works hard, positive attitude, supportive, promotes forgiveness, handles adversity well, loves deeply – yep it’s going to be hard to top this one.” 



Looking back I think my mother-in-law re-introduced us because of our mutual interest in sewing and she knew we would be good for one another. Aunt Max’s expertise is embroidery work, but she had an interest in quilting.   My expertise is quilting and my knowledge of embroidery work could be stored in a thimble.  I was raised to NOT be one of those people who “drops” by someone’s home without an invitation. That was a taboo in my mother’s home once you reached your teenage years.  You waited to be invited for a visit and that is exactly what Aunt Max did back in 2000, she called and asked me to stop over when I was in town and bring some of my quilting projects.



Jack Dempsey Needle Art

No. 274


The first time I stopped, she ushered me into her kitchen where she had just pulled some bread out of the oven.  Aunt Max made all her own bread from scratch, it is her trademark dish and she always sent a loaf home with me when I visited.  She is “old school” that way and like my husband’s Grandma Wildemuth, she never wanted anyone to leave her home hungry.


Standing in her toasty kitchen, which smelled just like your grandma’s house on Thanksgiving morning, I extended my hand and introduced myself to Aunt Max.  She dried her hands and pulled me in for a hug instead.  That was my reintroduction to this lovely soul. I think her motto is "strangers are just friends you haven't met yet." We went into her living room, sat down, and she said with a laugh “if you show me your sewing I’ll show you mine.”



Several visits later we mutually decided to collaborate on two wall hangings – one for me and one for her.  She would do the embroidery and I would do the quilting so at the end of this sewing session we would each have a quilt.    We worked on her quilt first as the blocks were already embroidered, a bird sitting in a branch of flowers, and we ended with my iris quilt.  We worked on our projects from 2000 until September 21, 2001 when I put the final stitches in the name tag on my iris quilt which reads:  Embroidery by Margaret Sherbeyn,  Geneseo, Illinois, Quilting by Susan Wildemuth, Atkinson, Illinois  September 21, 2001.  


Iris Quilt

Parks-Wildemuth Collection


My son Brian and I attended Aunt Max’s 90th birthday party at the Geneseo Community Center.  I was taking him back to college that Sunday. We stopped on our way through town because I wanted to introduce her to him and pay my respects.  That was the last time I saw Aunt Max.  She was all dolled up with a corsage on her lapel and her eyes dancing with joy – she was so happy. I like that memory and it is the one I carry of Aunt Max when I think of her today.


We had always talked of entering the iris quilt together in a quilt show, but we never did, .....until today.