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Helen Kelley, a nationally recognized quiltmaker and writer on quilting, died of a heart attack on Sept. 1 at her home in northeast Minneapolis.

She was 81.

Kelley, whose work was often inspired by family life and her travels, was inducted into the Quilting Hall of Fame in Marion, Ind., in August.

"She was a major influence in the art of quiltmaking," said Hazel Carter of Vienna, Va., founder of the Quilters Hall of Fame.

"She was a colorful person, and her quilts all had a colorful story behind them. Just every stitch, every bit of her workmanship had great needlework."

In all, Kelley made more than 150 quilts, sometimes taking years for the vision of one to take shape and spending months crafting it.

She grew up in New Haven, Conn., and was skilled at sewing since childhood. She earned a bachelor's degree in theater from Northwestern University in 1947. She married Bill Kelley and they raised a family, moving to Minnesota in 1962.

Kelley made a quilt when she was about to marry but got serious about the craft in 1972, making a wedding quilt for her daughter Helen Johnson of Orono. For the wedding quilt, Kelley collected squares from friends and family.

Kelley would make postage stamp quilts, with a scene from a favorite trip and the address and stamp depicted on the back. She made quilts for all her grandchildren and had completed quilts for some of her great-grandchildren.

Her work has earned several awards. Her quilt modeled after a Norwegian tapestry is owned by the Minnesota Historical Society and was dubbed by quilt experts as one of 100 best of the 20th century.

Kelley was the founder and first president of Minnesota Quilters and was part of a group at North Como Presbyterian Church in Roseville that makes quilts for the needy.

She held workshops around the country and in other nations and was a willing teacher, said Carolyn Densmore of Shoreview, a North Como Presbyterian Church quilter.

"She always had a positive comment about anything you brought," Densmore said. "She was charming, and able to poke fun at herself."

Starting in 1983, Kelley became a columnist for Quilters Newsletter, a magazine, and she continued to write the column until her death.

She was a history and antique quilt buff and wrote books on such things as dating quilts and Indian ribbon work, said her daughter Helen.

"She was proud of her skill," her daughter said. "She had a need to do it well and do it right."

"What she is loved for is her connection with people," she said.

In addition to her daughter Helen, she is survived by her husband of 60 years, Bill Kelley of Minneapolis; her other daughters, Ingred Lee of Forest Lake, Faith Rolfsen of Omaha, Neb., and Connie Kelley of Oakland, Calif.; a sister, Nancy Rotman of Milford, Conn.; five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Her son, Billy, died in 1987.

Services will be held at 4 p.m. today at North Como Presbyterian Church, 965 Larpenteur Av. W., Roseville.

Visitation will be held at 3 p.m. at the church.