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New Sewickley crochet queen strings together memories, smiles

| Thursday, July 19, 2007

Peg Baker crochets with a speed that resembles a machine more than an 86-year-old woman.

In under six years, Baker, of New Sewickley, has crocheted 1,000 quilts and afghans. That's nearly a quilt every two days, and so many stitches that Baker says she simply lost count of them years ago.

Her prolific output is especially impressive, considering that Baker works full time at Ruby's Dry Cleaners in Seven Fields, often six days a week.

"It's better than sitting at home. It's like every job. I have made many friends from the cleaners," she said.

When she is at home, though, Baker churns out an array of tricolored quilts and afghans.

"I do not work steady at it. I like crocheting because it relaxes me. Nothing relaxes me more," said Baker, who has been crocheting since she was 20.

Baker has donated nearly all her blankets to area hospitals, nursing homes and group homes, including several veterans hospitals, the McGuire Memorial Home in New Brighton and St. John's Specialty Care Center in Mars.

The quilts come in two sizes and three colors. Lap robes are half-quilts that are popular with people confined to wheelchairs.

"They are really nice, and the kids think they are great. They are always very colorful," said Bernadette Wesolowski, administrative secretary at the McGuire Memorial Home, a nonprofit Catholic center that cares for 250 severely disabled children.

McGuire has received dozens of the quilts over the years.

Baker's ability and speed are so well known among her friends and customers that she seldom buys her own yarn.

"People give me yarn all the time. I never really need to get it myself," she said.

Her friends marvel at her ability.

"She is a phenomenal woman. I don't know how she makes so many of the quilts," said Mim Gerstenberger, of Franklin Park, who met Baker at Ruby's and has given her yarn. "She is always in a good mood, and the customers love her."

Another friend, Shirley Rose, of Monaca, helps Baker distribute the quilts.

"I get them out to people who are going to hospitals. I think it's great. I wish I could make them but I am just not that crafty," Rose said.

Baker said she has no plans to slow down.

"There will always be people who need these quilts, and I intend to keep doing it," she said.

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