The Quilt Lady
Kay Lettau was a young mother with three active boys living in Voorsville, a small village outside Albany, N.Y., in 1974 when a neighbor introduced her to a local academy that taught quilting. It was the beginning of a lifelong love of quilting and of close quilting friendships.
At the same time, Kay was a volunteer for a struggling arts group, Theater Fun for Young People, and was also secretary of the PTA. “We thought of making a bicentennial quilt to raffle as a fund raiser,” Kay recalls. “We made $3,000, a lot of money in 1974! We brought professional theater from New York City into the elementary school … sponsored by the PTA.” Her bicentennial quilt “was my first quilting experience,” and it holds a special place in her heart.
The bicentennial quilt is near and dear to Kay's heart.
Kay and her family moved to Annandale, Va., on August 15, 1976, and by September she had found and joined Quilters Unlimited. “I found my quilting friends here, and I’m still active in the group,” she says. Quilters Unlimited has a number of chapters in Northern Virginia, and its Arlington chapter met at GHBC until the coronavirus lockdown this year – giving Kay an early introduction to GHBC.
In 1984 Kay began working part time at The Quilt Patch in Fairfax, where she worked on the retail floor and taught classes for 25 years. Sadly, the business closed about two years ago. Over the years, Kay made many quilts that were raffled or sold to support good causes, especially schools and cancer resource facilities, as Kay is a breast cancer survivor. The quilt she helped create for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the National Symphony Orchestra now hangs in the Green Room of the Kennedy Center.
Kay with the quilt she helped create for the National Symphony Orchestra
Quilts come in all sizes and shapes and colors, Kay explains, and the work can be done alone or in a group. The top of a quilt is either pierced or applique. Inside is a filling or batting, and the backing can be plain or patterned. With some of Kay’s beautiful quilts, it’s up to the user to decide which face is top or bottom.
The "top" of this quilt is in the eye of the beholder.
Kathryn “Kay” Lange was born in Wisconsin, and Milwaukee and its suburbs were home for all her growing-up years. Her parents were Wisconsin natives. “My father owned a gas station, though he worked in a defense plant at night during World War II,” Kay recounts. Her mother was a dressmaker, giving Kay exposure to sewing and a love and feel of fabric from earliest childhood. Younger sister Barbara completed the nuclear family.
Kay graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1960 with a major in sociology, and she stayed at the school for two more years to study the integration of Mexican migrants into urban Wisconsin society.
Kay met Bernhard “Bernie” Lettau at the university. He had completed his undergraduate work at Yale and came to Madison for his masters and PhD. Born in Germany, Bernie came to the United States at age 10. Like his parents, he became a meteorologist, though his career focus shifted to polar programs when he came to Washington, D.C., and joined the National Science Foundation in 1976. “There is a peak in Antarctica named for him: Lettau Peak!” notes Kay with pride.
Above, from left: Ulrich (Bernie's brother), Kay, Bernie, Barbara (Kay's sister) ...
And below, Kay and Bernie 50 years later in the same church:
Kay and Bernie married in July 1961. Son Christopher arrived when Kay was 23, and three years later twins Michael and Steven were born. “We moved a lot in the early years of our marriage: Boston, Washington, D.C., Coral Gables, Fla., Albany, N.Y.” Kay says. In 1976, the family moved to Annandale and put down roots. For two years, Kay worked at the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College (while continuing her part time commitment at The Quilt Patch), but she found she needed to be home more when her children were young. When the boys grew up and moved out, it meant more time to quilt. Bernie became ill in 2012 and died in 2013.
Kay and Bernie celebrate in 2010, joined by their sons (from left) Steven, Michael and Chris.
Kay moved to the Pointe at GHBC in February 2018, where she quilts, knits and enjoys her family. She is particularly proud of her seven grandchildren. Granddaughters Emily and Sarah, son Christopher’s 23-year-old twins, are nearby. Emily is a graduate student in Baltimore, and Sarah lives and works in Arlington. Granddaughter Mia, son Steven’s daughter, just graduated from the Punahou School in Honolulu and will enroll in Notre Dame in August. Mia’s parents are relocating from Hawaii to Boston this summer.
Son Michael’s two, 11-year-old Ellie and nine-year-old Adam, live with their parents in Silver Spring, Md. And son Chris’s youngest, Julian (four and a half) and Miles (two) live in nearby North Arlington. Kay, who is recovering from a fall in June that left her with a broken arm, notes with a big smile that she used to love reading to Julian. But now that her arm is in a sling, he reads to her.
In addition to quilt-making with Quilts Unlimited and at GHBC, Kay enjoys knitting sweaters for needy children through Knit for Kids, and she works with Love Quilts, making quilts to go to South Africa. She generously donates quilts to GHBC fund raisers in support of the GH Foundation, and regularly displays her work in resident art shows. How many quilts has she made over the years? “Many, maybe 200,” she answers. “I love quilting and quilters. If someone can pick up a needle, they become a friend."
By Nancy DeMarco
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Some of the quilts-in-progress Kay is making during the pandemic:
Table runners make great gifts:
Some of Kay’s recent quilts demonstrate her command of color, design, texture and more: