Sewing up a bit of local history

Melba Wren has created hundreds of quilts
By: Gloria Beverage, Colfax Record Editor
-A +A

At 72, Melba Wren has lost track of how many quilts she has made in her lifetime.
She just knows she fell in love with the art form when she was a little girl — learning from her grandmother and mother, who were avid quilters.
“I just love sewing,” she said. “I have branched out into other crafts — different things — but I do love quilting. I like the handwork — just the needle and thread work.”
In fact, Wren prefers to make appliquéd and embroidered quilts. Among the quilts in her home are versions of Sunbonnet Sue, Cathedral Windows, Gingham Cat and Dog and a series based on traditional Hawaiian quilt patterns.
One of her most unique quilts, however, is one she entered in last year’s quilt show.
The black and white quilt features 25 historic buildings and landmarks throughout the Colfax area.
Among the embroidered scenes are the former Standard Oil Tuberculosis Hospital, the Placer County Courthouse, the PG&E office (now the Colfax Library) and the Rising Sun Mine as well as the Auburn-Foresthill Swinging Bridge.
Wren got the idea for the historic scenes quilt after then Colfax High School art student Rachel Fritz asked to draw the former tuberculosis hospital for the high school calendar.
That got Wren, who has made her home in the former hospital for 35 years, to thinking about other landmark buildings.
“I had always wanted to find out where the Rising Sun Mine was,” she said. “I started doodling on material trying to do the mine.”
She and her husband, Bill Sagaser, took pictures of Yankee Jims swinging bridge and the Pioneer United Methodist Church in Auburn.
With Fritz’ help, she collected photos of other landmarks and historic buildings.
Then she set to work, although it took her nearly a year to complete the quilt.
Wren prefers to work on quilts during the winter months when she can do the hand sewing while sitting by the fireplace.
“It’s too hot to work on quilts during the summer,” she said.
In critiquing the completed landmark quilt, Wren said her favorites blocks are the two bridges.
“Yankee Jims Bridge was my favorite (block),” she said. “And No Hands Bridge, perhaps, because I grew up in Cool. I was disappointed with the way the house (former hospital) turned out in the block.”
Wren has also put together a scrapbook of pictures and information about the former tuberculosis hospital.
Wren and her first husband, Glenn Wren, had cared for foster children for 30 years.
“We had many, many foster children over the years — well over 100,” she said. “And we adopted four. I wish we could have adopted more. They all turned out to be such good and hard-working kids.”
The couple was living in a four-bedroom house when they decided to find a bigger house — settling in the former tuberculosis hospital where they raised their children and grandchildren.
After her husband, pastor of the Colfax and Alta Baptist Churches for many years, died, Wren renewed her friendship with widower Bill Sagaser, whom she had known since she was 14. They have been married for 12 years.
In addition to collecting thimbles, angels, cast iron pieces and dolls, Wren has developed a new interest. She and Sagaser are active members of the local Gem and Mineral Society, offering children’s classes on how to collect and study rocks.
Wren hasn’t decided what she will enter in this year’s quilt show, which will be displayed along Main Street from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25.
Cost to enter quilts — new, gently loved or collectibles — is $5.
Applications to participate in the show are due by Sept. 10, however, the quilts do not have to be delivered until Sept. 24.
For more information about the show, visit or stop by the Whistle Stop Quilt Show, 5 So. Main St.
Businesses and individuals are also being invited to sponsor awards for the non-juried show, explained show co-chairwoman Teri Andrews-Murch.
Each sponsor will be given a specially created yo-yo ribbon to present to the quilt of his or her choice on the day of the event.
For more information about the show, visit or stop by the Whistle Stop Quilt Show, 5 So. Main St.
Quilt Show
New and treasured quilts either made or owned by local quilters
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 25
Where: Along Main Street in downtown Colfax
Cost: $5 per entry. Application due by Sept. 10. Deliver quilts on Sept. 24.
For more information, visit or stop by Whistle Stop Quilt Shop, 5 So. Main St.