Helping Quilters Recover Their Treasures When Disaster Strikes

In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and the massive flooding it caused, Quilt Alliance announced that it would be providing Quilt Recovery Kits to help affected quilters, just as it did in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey. We asked Amy Milne, Executive Director of Quilt Alliance, to share the stories behind the Quilt Recovery Kit effort and some ideas of what quilters can do to help when disaster strikes, as well as how to request a recovery kit.

Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence and the flooding it caused in our home state of North Carolina and in our neighboring states has left an estimated 700,000-plus homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. Nearly three feet of rain fell in Eastern NC, flooding even the largest of roads including Interstates 40 and 95.

Those of us lucky enough to have Internet access saw images of house after house submerged with only chimneys poking out. It became obvious that many people had lost their homes and all it contained. In response, the Quilt Alliance decided to revive our Quilt Restoration Kit initiative, launched in 2017 after a particularly vicious string of storms, earthquakes and wildfires left thousands homeless in the United States.

Houston After Hurricane Harvey

Anyone who made plans to attend the 2017 International Quilt Market and Festival in Houston remembers the dilemma we all faced. The city had been nearly incapacitated by Hurricane Harvey just two months before. Would the show go on? Houstonians worked tirelessly to put the city back together. The familiar George R. Brown Convention Center, home to Market and Festival, served as a shelter for evacuated residents. But by the opening day of Market, the city was ready for visitors (and poised to win the 2017 World Series, which also took place during this time).

As we prepared to host our booth at Festival, our focus was on how to best help our fellow quilters and quilt lovers affected by this storm. We wanted to provide something of value to storm survivors that was unique to our mission of documenting, preserving, and sharing the history of quilts and their makers. We contacted Larry and Mindy Gonzales, co-owners of Retro Clean. We were impressed with their products and their compassion for customers with damaged textiles. We brainstormed a kit that would include samples of their product along with instructions and cotton quilt labels provided by StoryPatches, owned by Quilt Alliance president Michael Newman. The labels were provided to document the story of the restored quilt. We also worked with Moda Fabrics president and QA vice president Mark Dunn to provide packaging materials for the kits. Quilt Alliance staff fulfilled orders and correspond with recipients.

Quilters’ S.O.S

Hurricane stories are mentioned in a surprising number of interviews in our oral history project, Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories (QSOS). In Jette Clover’s 2006 QSOS interview, she describes a series she titled Rust that included marks made by rusty nails taken from boards used to protect her Florida home during the four hurricanes that state experienced in 2004. Check out a transcript of Jette’s interview.

Jette Clover, interviewed for Quilt Alliance’s QSOS by Bernard Herman in 2006

Jette Clover, interviewed for Quilt Alliance’s QSOS by Bernard Herman in 2006

Margarete Brescia tells the story of an unplanned project to replace quilts she made for her son after his home was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan, one of the four
hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004. From Margarete’s interview transcript:

I think a month later the hurricane came. And it took the whole house, everything. And my son called after he quieted down, and he said, “Well, yeah, the house is gone. The furniture is gone. Everything is gone. I can buy all those things again, but I can’t find and what is gone also, are the two quilts you made for us. Those I can’t replace.”

Margarete Brescia interviewed for Quilt Alliance’s QSOS by Evelyn Salinger in 2007

Margarete Brescia interviewed for Quilt Alliance’s QSOS by Evelyn Salinger in 2007

Perhaps Anita Murphy’s QSOS interview inspired us the most, as we developed our plan to create the kits. Anita was interviewed for QSOS in 1999, the year the project was launched at the International Quilt Festival. She shared memorable experiences of her time as a quilt judge and recounts one particularly grateful quilter’s husband:

He said “You have no idea what giving my wife’s quilt a ribbon means to me.… Our house was demolished in the hurricane… I found that quilt four blocks from where our house used to stand in the mud….We worked and worked to clean it up.” And, well, I just said, “I think God guided me,” you know, because it just was spectacular. And he said “She was going to enter seven quilts. Two we found near the house. The other four we have never located.”

Anita Murphy interviewed for Quilt Alliance’s QSOS by Janell Epp in 1999.

Anita Murphy interviewed for Quilt Alliance’s QSOS by Janell Epp in 1999.

Having lived in North Carolina during four hurricanes myself I know the absolute upheaval one can face after a major storm. No power, no water, no reassurance of any timeline for restoration. And with Hurricane Florence, like so many of late, came devastating flooding. Where do you begin when your entire home is filled with water and your cherished possessions are floating in dirty water?

Donated quilts will be sorely appreciated—after the most urgent needs of victims are met like housing, food, and healthcare. Monetary donations raised by quilt
fundraisers are an excellent way quilters can use their skills to make an immediate impact. We felt that our best outreach post-Hurricane Florence was to again provide the supplies and instructions for cleaning and restoring quilts—those irreplaceable treasures that mean comfort and heritage and home.

To request a kit, visit the Quilt Alliance website. We are reaching out to individual donors to help us with shipping costs so that these kits can be distributed at no cost to the recipients; you can make a secure donation on our website as well. We hope to provide a small gesture of healing and restoration to our quilt community friends who are facing the daunting task of drying out and restoring their lives and their treasures.

Amy Milne, Executive Director, Quilt Alliance

Learn more about Quilt Alliance and how to label and document your own quilts

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