LOCUST GROVE — Norma Russell lives in a modest home outside of town. She is retired, has an unassuming demeanor, and is religious.
Nothing out of the ordinary in that.
Norma Russell, however, possesses an extraordinary skill. She makes high-quality quilts, all but a few to be given away.
Last year, after making 40 quilts in 11 weeks for the John 3:16 Mission in Tulsa, she turned to God. “What do you want me to do?” she asked.
Russell said God told her to rest for the last two weeks of the year because He had a new assignment for her.
On New Year’s Day, she began making quilts for St. Jude Hospital. By the time she had finished 75 quilts, she had a conversation with God.
“God, I think I’m going to make 100 quilts,” she said.
“And He said, ‘Go ahead.’”
She finished her 100th quilt two weeks ago. “I have 15 (quilts) to tie the binding around, and they will all be completely done,” she said.
Russell said all the materials for the quilts are donated. Some come from friends at church. A sister in Bixby donates materials.
Russell said that God will tell her where the quilts are destined and how to get them there.
She said that St. Jude Hospital had mailed her requests for money in the past, but with her limited income she has been unable to donate. She thought her quilts might be a nice alternative. She hopes to deliver them personally.
When asked why she makes quilts, Russell gives a specific answer regarding the children of St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. “God said, ‘Those children have so much fear because they are afraid that they are going to die,’” she said.
“The thought came to me like a security blanket. So that’s why I want to give quilts to them. Each and every child that I give a quilt to, I want to pray for them personally.
“A few years ago, I said, ‘God, what was my calling for?’ and He said, ‘To pray for people with cancer.’”
Russell said there have been three people in her family who developed skin cancer. She said she prayed for each of them. She said each has been healed.
“It blesses me when I can bless others,” she said.
Russell said her mother died from cancer when she was 27.
Russell says she can create two quilts in a day, sometimes three. But she says that could be pushing the limit. It takes her about three hours to make a quilt. No two are alike.
She credits God with many of her designs. “I’ll lay down and close my eyes and all kinds of ideas will come to my mind,” she said.
Some of her quilts have gone to the nursing home in Locust Grove, other nursing homes in the area and the Tulsa Children’s Baptist Home.
In 2008, Russell took 500 of her hand-crafted stockings to five different nursing homes in the area.
Many of Russell’s quilts feature hand embroidery. The stitching is perfect. Thanks to a pencil and ruler. After the stitching is finished, she washes the quilt to remove the pencil marks.
One embroidered quilt depicts Biblical scenes. Another quilt, with tulips, took second place in the Mayes County Fair in 2010. Some of her quilts are hand painted.
At 77, Russell is proud of the fact she takes no medication, mows her own 2 1/2-acre lawn, does her own weeding and gardening.
“If I do for others, God does for me,” she says.
Following a divorce, she raised five children on her own, supporting them by working at a Tulsa Safeway store as a meat wrapper.
When her youngest daughter graduated from high school, Russell re-married. After 24 years of marriage, her husband died nine years ago.
Although she had been making quilts for several years, it was after her husband’s death that gave her a renewed purpose in making quilts.
Over the years, Russell estimates that she has made more than 500 quilts.
She says she has never sold one. She once traded a quilt for a Kirby sweeper for her home.
Russell makes maternity gowns and quilts whenever there is an expectant mother in her church. She is making several items for her granddaughter who is having a baby in August.
On Thursday, at 9:20 a.m., Russell put the final touches on her 100th quilt.
She then went outside to mow.
Later, she sat down and started reading a book.
Nothing out of the ordinary for a woman with extraordinary skills.