BLUE EARTH — Mike Ellingsen wasn’t looking for a hobby when he visited a local fabric store in Blue Earth 30 years ago. It was merely a quilt on a magazine cover that inspired his shopping trip.

However, being a newlywed who was short on money, Ellingsen wasn’t able to afford the quilt, hence the trip to the store.

30 years later, what started out as a project he wasn’t likely to finish has turned into one of the most important parts of Ellingsen’s life.

“I knew I couldn’t afford the quilt, but I sure could afford the fabric,” Ellingsen said. “That’s how it all got started.”

Ellingsen, who has lived in Blue Earth for 42 years, spent his career as a teacher and music director at Blue Earth High School. He has never done quilting professionally, but you couldn’t tell it from looking at his work.

His quilts have been showcased at the Faribault County Fair, the Blue Earth Quilt EXPO, and the Minnesota Quilters State Show. Saturday will mark another milestone, as the Rural Renaissance Project will host a display of Ellingsen’s work during Blue Earth’s annual Giant Days celebration Friday and Saturday. It will be Ellingsen’s first solo gallery exhibition.

One of the things Ellingsen has always liked about quilting is that it compliments his profession. As a music teacher, Ellingsen spent a lot of time using his voice. He recalled a comment from a speaker at a music convention he attended years ago.

“The speaker pointed out how I spent so little time in silence as a music teacher,” Ellingsen said. “I really think that’s a big reason why I was attracted to quilting.”

When it comes to the actual process of quilting, the task is not easy, especially if you intend to do it with the precision Ellingsen uses. The time and effort he puts in usually produces a great end product, but the journey has also become an important part of the hobby. Over time, Ellingsen has come to view his quilting as a form of exercise.

“I like the focus that it requires to work on a project,” Ellingsen said. “When you’re focused on that, you aren’t focused on other stuff.”

While the finished quilts, silence and focus are all great, they are not what has impacted Ellingsen the most when it comes to his quilting. Over the years, he has developed long-lasting relationships through the hobby. Whether it’s teaching classes, giving a lecture or showing his work, quilting is constantly connecting Ellingsen with people who share his passion.

“There is such a great quilting community that I’ve become close with here in Blue Earth,” Ellingsen said.

“It’s the people part that is the most enjoyable.”

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