To say Juanita Wall’s Texas quilt is the most popular item at the annual Santa’s Helpers Fund-raiser is an understatement as bidding has been known to reach a fevered pitch when the quilt goes up for auction.

“In recent years, they started waiting until the last to auction off the quilt because, when they scheduled it first, most of the crowd left soon afterward,” said Walls, also known as the Texas quilt lady.

Walls’ newest Texas quilt is on display at First Financial Bank among other auction items for Nov. 17. She also has already begun a new Texas quilt to be auctioned off at next year’s Santa’s Helpers.

“It takes me a year to finish a quilt,” Walls said.

The embroidery work highlighting every county in the state reflects Wall’s intricate attention to detail. Common Texas images are included around the edges of the quilt, with big letters spelling out “big, bold and beautiful.”

Using an overhead transparency, Walls casts the Texas image, complete with counties, on the quilt top, which is hung on a wall. She then traces over the images, which provide the guide for her embroidery work.

“I have a collection of paper patterns of different items such as windmills, ranch brands, longhorns, cactus trees, the Alamo and, of course I have to include a pickup truck. You know Texans love their pickup trucks,” Walls said with a smile.

Walls has made several of the prized Texas quilts during the years, including one for each of her three children, but said she finds fulfillment in providing her quilts for Santa’s Helpers, knowing they are used to bring joy into the lives of young children during the holiday season.

“This is one way I can serve God by doing something which will help children in need,” she said, noting her quilt brought $2,220 at the 2006 Santa’s Helpers auction.

“I thought people were going to fight over it,” she said with a laugh. “Just about everyone seemed to really want that quilt.”

Walls said the project got started several years ago when the ladies in her Sunday school class at Alvarado Church of Christ helped her with the quilt and provided money for the materials. Later on, the church elders, who recognized the response to the quilts by the public, decided to underwrite materials.

“My main problem is finding a place big enough, with a smooth wall, where I can hang the quilt and project the Texas image on it,” Walls said, emphasizing the need for the overhead projector to be at least 12 feet from the quilt.

“I have some very special friends, Calvin and Tinsie Larison, who, in the past have provided a space for me and also helped me with the project,” Walls said. “Calvin is pretty tall and could hold the quilt up for a while, but lately it got to be pretty difficult for him to stand there and hold it up for lengthy periods - he could only stand for about 10 minutes at a time and would have to stop and rest.”

Every year when she finishes a quilt, Walls said she entertains thoughts of discontinuing the project, but her love for her hobby and the excitement of knowing she is helping children always draws her back to the tedious task of stitching another quilt.

“It is very therapeutic for me and, every year, I try to add something new to the quilt - a lot of the time I just make up designs as I go,” Walls said. “My son-in-law logged onto the Internet and found some ranch brands, so we made up some patterns of them to use on the quilts, but my favorite monograms I have added to the quilts are the yellow roses.”

Walls and her late husband, Edward, moved to Texas from California 20 years ago and, although her only claim to being a Texan is that her father was born in the West Texas town of Dickens, she readily admits her love for the state and its culture.

“My granddaughter spent some time with me recently and, one afternoon when we were riding down the road, people would wave at us,” Walls said. “My granddaughter asked who that person was that waved and I told her that I didn’t know - people here in Texas are just friendly and wave at each other.”

Walls said when her granddaughter returned to her California home, she stood out in front of her house and waved at people as they drove by, but because no one returned the wave, she soon learned that waving to strangers didn’t seem to be a part of that state’s culture.

Walls recalled a man at one of the auctions who stood and studied the quilt for some time and then, pointing to a county, remarked, “Right here was where I was born.”

She said it saddens her that quilting is becoming a lost art, noting that the generation that can pass the skill down is about gone.

“It’s hard to find batting and other materials for quilting,” she said.

When a friend suggested she make the quilts to sell to supplement her income, she said she replied, “I could never do that. I am doing this to serve God and he has rewarded me many times over for it.”

E-mail Paul at paul.gauntt@waxahachiedailylight.com