Tu-Na Quilts: Wanted– Sister to Help Share the Brotherly Love

Warning: Tissues may be needed!

When my daughter, Emily, was young, her bedtime prayers always included “..and, please, help me get a sister.”


Here’s Emily at age two modeling a vintage coat. Yes, it was mine.

She wanted the sister experience and with three older brothers and one younger one, I can understand. However, it was not meant to be. 


Here’s Emily with her brothers.

So we decided to do the next best thing for our family. The spring before my daughter’s senior year in high school, my husband and I applied to be host parents for a foreign exchange student program.

Once our family was accepted, we were emailed pictures and biographies of student’s from all over the world. While scrolling through them, both my daughter and I couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw her. Our jaws dropped. She looked so similar to Emily that one could think they really were sisters. We requested Kerstin and she came to live with us in August of that year.


The girls are getting ready for a school dance. Kerstin is on the left and Emily on the right. They have been asked if they are real-life sisters.

By the second day after her arrival,  I knew she would fit right into our family when I heard my youngest son cry out and found him pinned under the dining table by Kerstin. That was 9 1/2 years ago. Kerstin was an only child when she came to us but soon learned how to hold her ground in a large family.


Kerstin was involved in many school and non-school activities. She made many friends while she was here. Here are the girls after a dance recital receiving flowers from Alyssa, who still remains a good friend to both of them.

Two weeks after Kerstin came to live with us, I walked past the door of Emily’s room and saw both girls sitting on the bed crying. By then, my husband and I had been to several AFS (stands for American Field Service and is the name of the foreign exchange student program that we used) orientations and were told to confront problems right away. So I entered the room and said, “Ok, girls, what’s the problem?” Amidst the sobbing and tears both girls replied “we’re talking about when Kerstin has to leave after school is over next year.” I knew it then and it still holds true today; Kerstin had entered our hearts to stay.


No school year would be complete without spending an evening at the senior prom. The girls shopped together for their dresses (and yes, it’s all about the dress) and had dates for the prom.


Although the foreign exchange program in our high school has the kids enroll as Juniors they still get to walk through graduation. After Kerstin returned to her home in Germany, she still had two more years of high school to complete.

The exchange program is a 10 month program. The school year went very fast and Kerstin was able to extend her stay for an additional month so that we could take her on several family trips to show her our beautiful country.


These trips were Kerstin’s first camping experiences. One night in July of that summer, we braved the heat of the Arizona desert and a few days later in the mountains of the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Park where we were scrambling to find more clothes to put on. The girls still have those matching Dr. Pepper pants we purchased near Yellowstone so they wouldn’t freeze.

We camped at Arches National Park in Utah and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, saw the Grand Canyon, drove through Sequoia National Park in California, wet our toes at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, peered at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and rode the white water (it was actually quite tame) of the Yellowstone river in Montana. We made lots of memories and had lots of fun.


Here we were 9 years ago! Time has flown by fast.

When we signed up to be a host family, we received no promises or guarantees that the year would go smoothly or that we would bond with our student or them with us. We are so pleased that the year went incredibly well as we grew very close to Kerstin and her to us. Saying goodbye that summer was very hard for all of us.

I baked and decorated cookies and a cake. We invited all of her friends and our extended family to help us celebrate her year with us and wish her well ’til we meet again. The German flag is outside of the picture on the right.

We had no idea if we’d ever see each other again or what the future would bring.


This pic was taken a day before we put her on a plane in Chicago and sent her back to her family in Germany. Everyone in our family became attached to her.

I am so happy to tell you that Kerstin’s been a part of our lives since. Modern technology (Skype, Face Time, Texting, and email) helps us stay connected. She’s come to visit us many times. One year Emily went to stay with her in Germany for 5 weeks. A couple of years ago, my husband I spent two weeks visiting Kerstin and her family. Kerstin was a bridesmaid in Emily’s wedding and we were honored to have her parents, aunt, and cousin attend as well.


It was a beautiful wedding. 

Kerstin called us last spring to tell us there was a possibility she would be coming to spend the fall semester at Montana State University in Billings, about 6 hours away from our home in North Dakota. She is studying to become a bi-lingual teacher in math and English. We were thrilled when everything worked out to allow her to do so.

When she called again early last summer to ask if she could borrow some bed linens and blankets, I got the idea to make her a quilt. After all, there is nothing better that says you are loved than being wrapped in a quilt.


I cut 3.5 inch squares of Elementary by Sweetwater for Moda and included some green and purple pops of color from the Bazaar Style Collection from Art Gallery, Burlap by Dover Hill for Benartex, and Prints Charming by Sandy Germais for Moda.

That fat quarter bundle of Elementary  by Moda that I had purchased the year before would be perfect. So I enlisted help from Emily and my daughter-in-laws to design it. We decided on a modern plus quilt. 


We started with graph paper and colored variations of the plus quilt.


One of my grandson’s designed this option. It’s beautiful, too.

My sister’s were involved with helping to pin and press and my mom hand embroidered the quilt label for the back.


The living room furniture was rearranged to give more space. It took a whole day for my sister Sheila and I to lay out all 924 squares. The long handled tongs were used to reach into the middle as we arranged and rearranged until it was just right.



My sister Sheila became the “Pinning Queen.” With her help, all of my seams matched perfectly!


My sister Bonnie took care of pressing those seams.


I did the sewing, except for one seam, when my sister Bonnie sat at the machine and said “so this is what it feels like to sew.”

But it wasn’t all work and no play. During our quilting days together, we took breaks.


My mom and sisters and I would have tea time in the sunroom.


If the weather cooperated, we’d have tea time outside in my gazebo. Sometimes we ate more than we worked because there was morning tea and afternoon tea with lunch in between. But somehow, the quilt was finished.


My sister Sheila is showing us how to make pizza on the grill during one of our quilting days. It was delicious and just may be the subject of yet another post.

I sewed the quilt and rented time on a longarm so it would be done and ready to present to her when she arrived in late August.


I let the computerized longarm do the work and quilted various sizes of circles and bound it with the ruler fabric Measure Up in Splash.

I had found the perfect backing on our 2016 Quilt Minnesota Shop Hop trip.


This is a text fabric called Odds and Ends by Julie Comstock for Moda. It includes encouraging words and phrases such as: believe, dream, beauty, never give up, realize your potential, surrender your heart, as well as many more.


While I had plenty of fabric for the back, I chose to add in some squares leftover from the front to give it more interest.

We were excited when the time came to see her again. She had arrived at Emily’s several days earlier so they could have some “girl time.”


Since I know she likes to wrap herself up in the blankets, I made it big. It finished at 84″ x 99.”


She loved it!

The semester went fast and we were so happy to be able to spend time with her again. She flew to Arizona with us after Christmas to enjoy some fun in the sun here.


She made sure the quilt fit in her suitcase for her return trip to Germany. We are so proud of all she’s accomplished here: living in a different country and culture, learning to live with a large family, trusting us to care for her, thriving in school work, making lifelong friends, sharing her life with us, and letting us love her.

What I Learned Today:

  1. I miss having our German exchange daughter in our house.
  2. There is nothing better that says you are loved than being wrapped in a quilt. I hope Kerstin feels that love every time she uses that quilt.
  3. Germany is a long way from North Dakota or Arizona.
  4. This post was more difficult to write than I anticipated. It was hard to type looking through tears.
  5. I look really good in that picture taken nine years ago. I wonder what’s wrong with my camera now? I must need a new camera because I feel the same as I did years ago.

Question: Have you or anyone you known participated in the foreign exchange program?  Did you have a foreign exchange student in your classes in school? Tell me your story.

Linking this week to Love Laugh Quilt for Monday Making, Beth at Cooking Up Quilts for Main Crush Monday, Sew Fresh Quilts for Let’s Bee Social , Finished Or Not Friday at Busy Hands Quilt, Can I Get a Whoop, Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, and Show Off Saturday at Sew Can She. I will add the links when they come live. Some are posted on my sidebar.

34 thoughts on “Tu-Na Quilts: Wanted– Sister to Help Share the Brotherly Love

  1. Emily R

    Where has the time gone?! Kerstin was, and still is, a joy! It took us all fourth of July weekend to figure out a pattern and arrangement for the quilt. It was great having the whole family help. Mom, aunts, and grandma did a wonderful job making our vision a reality.


  2. Demaris Soso

    Very good story, this should inspire many to participate in the Foreign Exchange student program. You had a wonderful experience but unfortunately that isn’t always the case, but then we never know unless we bite the bullet and take the challenge.


    1. Tu-Na Quilts, Travels, and Eats Post author

      I know the exchange programs are short of host families and some kids don’t get to come. I hope our story does inspire other families to take the leap. They don’t have to have older kids either as I know some families have really young kids yet and some have no kids at home anymore. We were also told the programs look for families living in small-town or rural America instead of big cities to give the kids a better flavor of living in the U.S.


  3. Sheila Herman

    Wow, this is a very nice story! I guess it means a lot since I got to see Kerstin again this past fall. It had been a number of years since she arrived at your residence the first time. What is making my heart leap even more is the fact that I just spent 2 hours in the basement going to through girl scout paperwork. All of the memories I have with those girls are amazing. Sometime it saddens me that I can’t remember every little detail. It is when I look at the paperwork that some of it comes roaring back and it put a smile back on my face. Giving hearts, making a difference – I guess that is what it is all about.


  4. Bonnie

    Yes, we had an exchange student too! Danielle from Italy…such fun…Italy isn’t any closer than Germany! Love the story you wrote!


  5. Carol Home

    Thank you for sharing your story! What a wonderful life experience. I knew bits and pieces but I really enjoyed reading about your whole experience. Beautiful quilt you made and very nice to see the working and relaxing pics.


  6. Little Quiltsong

    I can just imagine your tears – what a lovely story – thank you so much for sharing!! The quilt is absolutely gorgeous!! Though we never had an exchange student stay in our house – we ‘adopted’ one and made sure he spent weekends with us – also from Germany. He also became like a member of our family and to this day we Email and send family updates etc. He visited us with his wife a few years back – we just took up where we had left off – it was totally like family :)!


  7. Beth @ Cooking Up Quilts

    That’s a beautiful story Karen, and an absolutely gorgeous quilt! I love that the quilt was a family project. That must have been so fun for all of you to work on, and spend so much time together. Love all the pictures you shared. Thanks so much!


  8. Jayne

    What an amazing adventure you started and an amazing connection you all gained! I think it was destined to be. The miles apart in real life…were not so with your hearts!


  9. Kristin

    My family hosted 3 exchange students (year-long, like Kerstin), as I grew up. Julia lived with us when I was in 6th grade and my sister was a Senior. She fit in so well, and my aunt was asked on more than one occasion if my Dad had ever spent time in Germany… 🙂
    Unfortunately, my family is not the best at keeping in touch with people, and we have lost touch with Julia over the 28 years since she lived with us.

    My youngest had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Germany as part of her German club. The German kids that our kids stayed with then came to stay in America for 3 weeks a few months later. Those kids all had a blast, and I’m happy to say that they do still talk. I’m so glad she got to have that experience.

    I love the quilt!


  10. Sue S

    My family hosted a German student the year my daughter was a sophomore. Our Kristin only stayed for about seven weeks, but it was a very enjoyable time. She was a year older than our daughter, who was not part of the German class (they had more students than hosts and the German language teacher was my daughter’s English teacher.) We had many enjoyable experiences. One of the other students was placed in a not-so-great situation and we nearly had two for the price of one, but they figured that out eventually. We don’t keep in touch but I do have fond memories and I’m glad we did it.


  11. Puppilalla

    Oh Karen – Well now I had to cry too. What a lovely story, beautiful quilt and family ties to cherish. In German (YAY – for compound words by the way) there is a work called ‘Wahlverwandschaft’, which accomodates the fact that there is more than blood relatives to family. ‘Wahl’ = ‘choice’ and ‘Verwandschaft’ = ‘relations, relatedness’. Kerstin and your family certainly chose each other. The quilt is a fantastic family group effort.


    1. Tu-Na Quilts, Travels, and Eats Post author

      One thing I’ve learned about the German language is that you all must be good spellers since your words are so long and complicated. Your reference to Wahlverwandscaft here speaks perfectly to what we experienced. The exchange program is great for building bridges between cultures and countries.


    1. Tu-Na Quilts, Travels, and Eats Post author

      Kerstin feels the same too. She made a hard cover photo book for us for Christmas and included pictures from her initial stay with us and all the other times she visited or we visited her. It was beautiful and she ended the book stating she calls two places home. It makes me teary eyed each time I look at it.


  12. Kathy Swallows

    Such a special story and a gorgeous quilts. My daughter refers to her quilts as “hugs from mom”. Which is why I’m making 3 quilts for her best buds from school so they have hugs from home when they go off to college. I’m sure Kerstin will feel the same way about her quilt.


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