If I’ve learned anything about quilters in my tenure as editor of Modern Patchwork and Quilting Arts magazines, it is that they have incredibly generous hearts and love to share their abilities with those in need. Charity quilt drives (as well as calls for prayer flags, handmade Quilts of Valor for soldiers, and even stitched pillowcases) are an important part of the handmade culture and a way we quilters give back to our communities.
Want to know more about collecting quilts or organizing your own drive?
How about some advice from an expert: Cheryl Arkison shares her insight after organizing a charity quilt drive following a flood in her home city of Calgary, Alberta.
“The social gathering of quilters is nothing new. People have come together for centuries to ease the tedium of daily work. And the power of quilts to comfort is also universal. When tragedy strikes—whether to individuals or entire communities—the combination of these two truths calls industrial quilters to organize, create, and share their love through stitching.
Hurricanes, floods, fires, devastating illness, death, tornadoes, and then some call for quilts as comfort. Sometimes it is a quiet gift for a friend and other times the quilts come pouring in. When grief or disasters strike, quilters seem compelled to make and donate quilts.
Getting the quilts from the quilter to the recipient takes thoughtful management—so that donating quilts does not become a disaster itself. Through trial and error efficient ways have developed to organize the entire process—so that the quilts are delivered where needed when needed and that the recipients have something truly to treasure, if not inspire.
Make the Call
There is usually one person, store, or group who rallies to start a quilt drive. While this enthusiasm drives the initial response, it is the worldwide reaction that fuels the community.
It’s All in the Details
The overwhelming response to a request for quilts can be both a blessing and a curse. Managing donations, donors’ expectations, and the distribution process make for long volunteer hours and commitment. Not to mention storage space! It often becomes more than one enthusiastic individual can handle, more than their home can store.
Set Your Guidelines
Will you take quilt blocks or quilt tops or only completed quilts? Accepting only finished quilts reduces the volunteer commitment significantly, but it may also limit the potential for quilters to help out. Not everyone has a quilt ready to donate in a timely fashion or the wherewithal to send a completed quilt.
After the Calgary floods, the national and international response that I received from quilters was overwhelming. The desire—but not necessarily the means—to help was strong. So I put the call out for Just One Slab, a single, improvised block in a standard size. I’d hoped for about 200 blocks to assemble into 10 quilts, but the drive received over 2,300 blocks—not to mention a dozen finished quilts and numerous quilt tops! Volunteers helped with sorting blocks, quilt top assembly, quilting, and binding. It was a lot of unexpected work.
Is it worth it?
Yes, it is a lot of work. And there are times when the volunteer efforts are overwhelming. But, says Victoria Findlay Wolfe who organized a quilt drive for victims of Hurricane Sandy and has been instrumental in organizing and hosting other quilt charity drives, “Giving is all about giving joy. I am grateful that I can do my part. Life is too short, and we need to take care of those around us.”
Cheryl Arkison is a writer, quilter, and teacher from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A mother of three, she takes every chance she can to get to sew with them.
Quilters are a generous bunch: Just ask members of the Orlando Modern Quilt Guild who collected and created more than 1,700 quilts after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 (learn more in the July/August 2017 issue of Modern Patchwork), or those who have contributed quilted panels to the Aids Memorial Quilt which is the largest community art project in the world. Ever heard of Quilts of Valor? Veterans all over the country have received handmade quilts in honor of their service. And if you need inspiration for making your own QOV quilt to donate, check out this pattern and other Quilt of Valor patterns, ready to download.
It’s never too late to add your name to the very long list of quilters who make giving a way of life.
Explore more charity quilt inspiration!