Nina Borroz has always loved sewing. When she was little, her mother warned her not to touch the sewing machine, but she did anyway, piercing her hand with the needle. That didn’t deter Borroz. She learned to sew at her mother’s knee, and helped with the piles of mending and sewing required to clothe a family of 16.
Now 98, Borroz participates in Glenwood Community Church’s quilting group, which sews and donates about 700 quilts a year. Borroz sews the most — 150 to 200 a year — which she earmarks for veterans organizations.
“My heart speaks way more to veterans than other people,” Borroz said.
Three of her brothers served in World War II and two served in the Korean War. Her now-deceased husband, Oresto “Rusty” Borroz, served in the U.S. Army in Nevada, mining metals used in the war effort.
Although Borroz sewed throughout her life — including professionally during a seven year stint at Jantzen’s Vancouver clothing factory in the late 1950s, early ’60s — she devoted herself to quilting when her husband became ill before he died in 2009 at age 93. The couple had been married 67 years and raised four children.
Born in New Mexico, Borroz was the eighth of 14 children. By early adolescence, Borroz was sewing overalls for her younger siblings.
“We didn’t have anything to waste,” Borroz said. “We had to use it all.”
Sometimes that meant sewing with threads pulled from cloth flour sacks.
Well-stocked sewing room
Borroz has no scarcity of supplies today. In the Minnehaha home just outside Vancouver where she has lived since 1953, a spare bedroom serves as her sewing room. It holds both a sewing machine and a serger, as well as a pegboard loaded with thread and tidy piles of fabric and quilts in patriotic patterns of red, white and blue.
Some of the fabric comes from donations to the quilting club. Before the pandemic, she would also scour thrift stores with her daughter, Gail Durance, 69, who lives with her.
Durance helps with the washing, folding and ironing of large pieces of fabric, work that’s difficult for Borroz because she’s unsteady on her feet due to a painful knee and arthritis. Borroz cuts the fabric and stitches strips or squares together for the quilt’s top, which Durance helps her stretch over the backing and batting. Then Borroz binds the edges and hand-ties the three layers together.
“If she doesn’t get a quilt done, she can’t sleep,” Durance said. “She feels like she hasn’t accomplished anything.”
Borroz’s quilting group hasn’t been meeting at Glenwood Community Church since the coronavirus pandemic shut down activities in March. The group’s coordinator, Susan McArthur of Hazel Dell, said the weekly meetings typically drew 12 to 20 members.
“The group is still producing quilts, but this year it will be probably 300 or 400,” McArthur said.
On a recent morning, Borroz had 40 quilts stacked in her sewing room awaiting delivery to veterans groups.
She makes simple designs because that means fewer stress points. She wants her quilts to look nice, sure, but more than that, she wants them to be used. She sticks mainly to lap size, so the quilts won’t tangle in a wheelchair. She sews the quilts to last.
Her daughter believes the quilting keeps Borroz sharp because she has to figure out patterns and use her hands. Plus, she finds purpose in her efforts.
“I love vets. That’s what I care about,” Borroz said.
When asked how she has achieved her longevity — lifestyle? genes? — she joked in reply, “If it isn’t the jeans, it’s the overalls.”
Then she gave a serious answer: “I don’t smoke and I don’t drink.”
Any advice for younger generations? She chuckled. “I’m afraid they wouldn’t take it.”