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Real men make quilts

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PEQUOT LAKES — When you’re given a heaping pile of lemons — say, for instance, a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis — why not make lemonade?

But John Marchwick Sr. of Pequot Lakes took it one step further; he decided to start designing and sewing quilts.

Marchwick, 72, was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in the fall of 2002. That winter he and his wife, Dorothy, temporarily moved in with their youngest son, Jeremiah Marchwick, who at the time lived in Owatonna, so John could be closer to the Mayo Clinic, where he was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

One day he accompanied his wife to a fabric shop. She had taken up quilting about two years earlier and needed to pick up material. John’s sister, Mary Richard, of Virginia, stirred her interest in making quilts. Dorothy Marchwick brought her sewing machine to their son’s home so she could keep busy while down there for her husband’s cancer treatments.

As John Marchwick looked around the fabric shop, he had an idea. As a retired electrician, he had a keen eye for spatial relations. He could look at a home and easily map out where the wiring needed to be. In fact, it was fun for him. His dad and grandfather were both carpenters so he figured he inherited this ability from them. Both of his sons now work in construction. His son, John, is a carpenter and son, Jeremiah, is an electrician.

So Marchwick decided to try to make his own quilt.

“He said, ‘I could make one of those. If you women can make those, I can too,” Dorothy Marchwick recalled with a smile.

He wasn’t feeling well enough until the following winter to start quilting, but he did it, and continues to enjoy it. He mostly quilts in the winter and has made five quilts so far. He not only makes quilts, but designs the intricate patterns. Not long ago he hand-delivered one of his quilts to his 3-year-old grandson living in Oregon.

“After he made one, I could see he was hooked,” said his wife.

“I’m not afraid to tear stuff part and redo it,” said Marchwick.

One of his quilts took two years to rework because it just wasn’t turning out quite the way it should.

Marchwick once saw a Celtic knot pattern he liked on a chair for sale on eBay and designed an entire large quilt based on that pattern. He has designed a quilt based on a photograph, rather than following a pattern.

Marchwick has sewn his own clothing for years. As an electrician who worked on projects all over the state, he would often only be able to be home in Pequot Lakes on weekends while his wife stayed home with their five children. While he was away, Marchwick would sew his own shirts and pants. He now owns about 10 sewing machines, usually picking them up at garage sales or on He likes to tinker with older machines and fix them up. He also has a leather sewing machine and has made his own leather gun cases.

“I knitted a little bit in grade school, too,” Marchwick added with a smile.

Marchwick doesn’t sew in the summer; he’s too busy outdoors. The Marchwicks have a large garden and he enjoys riding his bike. He’s been biking regularly since 1996 and rides about 30 miles a week now, though he used to ride more often. He participates in the annual Tour of Lakes Bicycle Ride every June. He also biked in the MS150 in 1998.

Marchwick also enjoys cutting wood, which he uses to heat their home. He and his brother Pat once designed and built a wood splitter at his brother’s machine shop. He still uses it.

Dorothy Marchwick said her husband doesn’t like to sit still. He used to help build Habitat for Humanity homes. He enjoys hunting and target shooting. He likes shooting rifles and, for an additional challenge, he uses his own custom-loaded shells.

When he’s not busy quilting during the winter, Marchwick can be found out on the ice spearfishing. He has made his own wooden fish decoys after taking a course at Pequot Lakes High School last winter.

“I just wanted to try it. I thought it was neat,” Marchwick said, of making fish decoys.

Since 1976 when they moved from southern Minnesota to Pequot Lakes, the Marchwicks have baked their own bread from scratch, which includes grinding their own flour. He said the bread tastes more fresh that way. When their children were home, they’d make at least five loaves a week. Now, with just the two of them, they usually make a couple fresh loaves each week.

While he likes to experiment with “fancier” breads, his wife consistently makes a great wheat bread, he said.

His goal is to recreate the dark German bread he ate when he was stationed in Germany in the U.S. Army for three years. He’s tried, experimented with rye flour variations, but nothing has come close to the bread he enjoyed while stationed abroad.

It’s an elusive recipe that Marchwick is determined to figure out one day.