"My husband thought this would just last a couple of years, like those other things," Olsen says. "Well, it didn't." Instead, spurred by a fascination for the delicate geometric intricacies of such patterns as "Broken Dishes" or "Wandering Foot," Olsen found her interest kept growing. Ten years ago she bought an old quilt in need of repair at an auction in Cheyenne, then some unfinished blocks in Estes Park. Looking them over, she got the idea of finishing projects started decades before by anonymous quilters, researching the old patterns and then matching pieces of antique fabric to those used in the original works. But it wasn't until she discovered eBay that the concept really took off: The isolated Wyomingite suddenly had unlimited access to quality antique fabrics from all over the country. The result was Olsen's ongoing series of what she calls "time span quilts"; a display of several of these works, Resurrection: Time Span Quilts 1860-1930, opens Friday at Golden's Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.
As she hunts down unfinished blocks and tops, Olsen considers not only the condition of the quilt fragments, but also the quilting tradition from which they might have come. And there are pragmatic decisions to make as well -- such as whether or not she has the appropriate fabrics to make a good re-creation. "My aim is to finish them as the original woman intended," Olsen says. "I don't do modern adaptations, because I really don't like them." There are very good quilters doing beautiful work in that vein, she adds, "but when I see them, I cringe. I think I could have done a much better job." Sometimes the "better job" involves different color choices than those used in the original; sometimes Olsen has no idea what the original quilter even intended.
"People say I'm absolutely crazy to do this," she admits. "But most people don't have the time to do what I do. Most people have a life -- they have to cook, they have to clean. Some have jobs. I don't have to do any of that." The diligent quilter figures she now has enough projects lined up to last a lifetime -- or at least, she laments, "I have enough to last me until I reach the age when my fingers just won't work anymore."