One quilt, set aside for a young boy, is covered in the colorful bandanas and playful poses of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Another, for a mother, is adorned with watercolor, paisley and floral fabrics in every tone of purple imaginable.
Each work of art is neatly tied with ribbon with a corresponding name tag — one for each resident of the 33 new Habitat homes going up in Lacey, Washington, a suburb of Olympia.
For months, the Quiltmakers of Olympia have poured their time and their hearts into the patient piecing together of fabric into intricate blocks, sewing the blocks into plush quilt tops, and combining the tops with middle and bottom layers, all to create these beautiful quilts, each a housewarming gift for their newest neighbors.
The quilters are leaning into their existing talents to support Habitat’s mission by donating their skill, their scraps and their spare time to spread a little more love and a little more comfort to the families around them. They do it because they know that the work — of strengthening families, revitalizing neighborhoods and building community — doesn’t end when construction does.
“You don’t necessarily have to swing a hammer to help Habitat families,” says Shawna Dutton, marketing and development manager of Habitat South Puget Sound. “You can show somebody support in so many different ways, using whatever talents you have, wherever you are, to help.”
Anita Blair, an Olympia guild member, says the quilters’ work is like a Habitat home build. It comes together best in community with a group of people contributing materials, time or know-how. “It’s truly an investment of time and love,” she says. “So making a quilt for someone tells them that we’re behind them. That we all want them to be happy, to be supported, to be secure.”
Lucas was so thrilled with his quilt he couldn’t wait to get home to try it out. Thank you for your thougtfulness in preparing these quilts for our Habitat families.
The generosity of quiltmakers to ensure that Habitat families know they are seen, sustained and wrapped in love occurs across the country.
In Santa Rosa, California, Habitat Sonoma County, responding to a growing interest from the community, started the Welcome Home Quilters for some of its volunteers. The group, which meets monthly, creates a quilt for every child in every Habitat home and a larger quilt for each family. Once a year, they also create what they have termed an “Opportunity Quilt.” It is raffled off, and ticket sales fund their quilts for the rest of the year, creating a self-sustaining model.
In Saginaw, Michigan, Jane Werner and Linda Grindahl saw the potential for turning their hobby into a tool for changing lives. The two tapped into the interest and skill of their entire town to throw a community quilt show. Now in its 17th year, the show — which brings in donated quilts from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and other states — has raised more than $175,000 for Saginaw-Shiawassee Habitat.
In Greenville, South Carolina, the women of the Nimble Thimbles Quilting Guild have spent thousands of hours over the past decade quilting more than 275 works of art for Habitat families, including several Quilts of Valor, an honor reserved for veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
Collectively, recipients of the quilts feel the impacts of these gifts, figuratively and literally. “When you talk about quilts creating that feeling of warmth and home, that is something that these artists give to every one of our family members,” says Jennifer Faner, director of homeowner and community engagement at Habitat Greenville County.
It’s a feeling that continues across years and generations. In 1995, Trisha and her three children moved into their new Habitat house in northern Michigan. At the house dedication, a small group of women presented the family with handmade gifts — four quilts, one for everyone. “When they were opening up the quilts, my son Caleb latched onto one. He said, ‘That one’s mine,’” Trisha says.
Ever since, wherever Caleb has gone, that quilt has gone, too. Caleb served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years. “He actually asked me to ship it to him in Iraq while he was stationed there,” Trisha says.
When Trisha told that story, Wendy Davis, executive director of Habitat Grand Traverse Region, teared up. Soon after, Davis received a picture from Caleb of him with his cherished quilt. And just like Caleb with his quilt, Davis carries that photo with her everywhere.
Over the years, the colorful squares faded from sunlight and seams unraveled. With Caleb’s blessing, Davis took the quilt back to the original quilters at the Presbyterian Church of Traverse City, a small group of talented women who still are making quilts for new Habitat homeowners today.
As the mending began, the women realized that Caleb’s was the very first quilt that they had sewn as a group. Back in their hands, the quilt, with all its love and all of its stories, had come full circle.
And the tradition continues. At her house dedication in March 2018, new homeowner Shan of Chattanooga, Tennessee, felt acceptance as she was enveloped in her own quilt from the Chattanooga Modern Quilt Guild.
Although she had put in hundreds of hours of sweat equity into the construction of her home and her neighbors’ homes around her, it wasn’t until that labor of love made by a dozen caring hands was placed in her own that Shan finally felt like she was home.
“I’ve never experienced so much joy and excitement from something that to others might seem so simple,” Shan said. “But to me at that very moment, that quilt meant the world.”