Everyday Heroes: Greg Biornstad and comfort quilts

Greg Biornstad of Happy Valley works on a comfort quilt. (KATU Photo)

A retired Happy Valley man took up the art of quilting after winning a basket of quilting material at the Clackamas County Fair.

What he did with the quilts made him our Everyday Hero.

Greg Biornstad started making quilts for friends of friends going through cancer treatments or some other medical crisis four years ago.

“I’m on number 16 in four years, so I’m not very fast,” Biornstad says.

Biornstad retired after 30 years as an elevator mechanic after a diagnosis of compression fractures in his back. The quilting basket he and his wife won at the fair seven years ago sat idle for three years. He was already making stained-glass art.

“Like my wife said, ‘stained glass is not that much different from quilting. You’re just doing geometric patterns with fabric, not glass,’” Biornstad says.

So he jumped in feet first into the quilting community, which you can imagine is mostly the purview of women.

“I walked into places and they’ll turn to my wife and they’ll say, ‘OK, what would you like,’ and all this. And she says, ‘I’m not the quilter, he is.’ And they’re just totally shocked,” says Biornstad.

But being a man allows him to make quilts for guys, including a manly quilt with hunting scenes for a man recovering from a severe fall.

For the nonprofit group, Quilts Without Borders, he made one for a boy in a Syrian refugee camp.

“I went on their website and the girls are really happy they’ve got these quilts, and the boys are holding them up like, ‘Yeah, I’ve a got a quilt, but it’s got flowers on it, and I really don’t like it,’” says Biornstad. “So I was making ones with spaceships, pirates, things like that.’”

What’s the most important thing to know when making a quilt? Patience and not worrying about perfection, Biornstad says.

“If you can’t see a mistake from 12 feet away, it doesn’t exist, and there are no perfect quilts and that helps a lot,” he says.

Due to his back pain, Biornstad can’t sit and sew for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time. But the rewards are great, he says: “I get a lot of letters back saying, ‘Thank you very much, this is wonderful, I really enjoy it. It is really helping me out. And I know when I put this on, people are thinking and praying for me and love me.’”

And he returns the love and caring in kind.

“I’ll sometimes pray for that person as I’m making it – that it will comfort them, and they’ll know that they are loved and people are thinking about them while it’s being made,” Biornstad says. “This will hopefully comfort them while they’re going through that medical crisis.”

Biornstad says what he’s learned over the years about quilting is how long they can survive – decades, with many from the 19th century still on display, telling personal and family stories.

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