Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What's Cookin' at The Sweatshop, Week #15

Hi, all!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving - and I have so many things to be thankful for!  But one thing I am especially thankful for is the quilt ministry I work with, and the wonderful ladies, both here in Tennessee and those of you bloggers who have become part of the ministry around the world.  For those of you who aren't familiar with our quilt ministry, this Thanksgiving weekend marks our second anniversary.

The following post is a reprint from last year and tells the story of how and why our quilt ministry got started.  I've updated it a little with some more current information...


Several of you have asked about how our quilt ministry began, and after checking with the parties involved to be sure they didn't mind me posting about it on my blog, I'm ready to tell.  It's a good story but a little long, so grab a cup of coffee and settle in...

When I was leading a Beth Moore study group at church in the spring of 2009, a couple of the young women in the group were talking before class about how much they wished they had learned to sew, so that they could sew for their daughters.  Overhearing their conversation, I asked if they would come to a Saturday sewing group if we set one up through church, and they sad they would.  So in August, we started a once-a-month sewing group to learn basic sewing.  Another group started on Wednesday nights, also teaching basics.  Between the two classes, we had about 20 people learning how to sew, led by about four of us who were experienced, mostly in making clothing.  We taught them how to make purses, simple children's dresses, and other easy projects.

Last November, Kelley, the wife of our youth minister, was told she had an abnormal PAP smear, and they wanted to check it again.  On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Kelley was told that she had cervical cancer and needed to have a total hysterectomy.  The results from her tests came back on Wednesday, confirming a rare and aggressive form of cancer, and her surgery was scheduled for the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend.  One of the other pastors' wives and I spoke on Wednesday, wanting to do something for Kelley, but not knowing exactly what to do. Being involved with the youth, Kelley didn't spend a lot of time with the other women at church, so we didn't know her very well.  We both agreed that we ought to do something, and that we would think about it and talk later.  

Cut to Thanksgiving morning, 5 a.m.  The house is quiet - dogs and husband still asleep.  I've put my turkey in the oven and I settle down at my sewing table to cut out the pieces for a quilt I want to make for my granddaughter for Christmas.  (This would be the first quilt I'd made in about 25 years, and only about the fifth ever!)

Now it gets a little strange, and is certainly indicative of the sense of humor God endowed me with....  As I 'm sitting there working, I hear, "Make Kelley a quilt."  (I say "hear" but no, I'm not hearing voices, it's just the easiest way to describe it!  I thought it was just a wild idea that popped in my head...)  And I snorted, thinking yeah, right, there's no time to make Kelley a quilt!  A few minutes later, I hear again, "Make Kelley a quilt."  OK, this is getting weird now - obviously this is a little more than just a wild idea that I'm coming up with - but I think again that there's no way I can get one done before she goes in the hospital in five days. 

You would think that would be the end of it, wouldn't you? But no! The next thing I hear is "Get your friends to help you!"  (And now you see why I told you about starting our sewing classes.  If we hadn't started those classes, there wouldn't have been anyone to call on!)  OK, that's maybe possible - but it's still a wild idea.  And it's Thanksgiving weekend - who's going to give up any of their holiday time on the biggest shopping weekend of the year to come and sew?

And you know what I heard then?  "If you feed them, they will come!"  (I told you God gave me a weird sense of humor!)
From the movie "Field of Dreams"
About that time, my husband came in looking for coffee, and I asked him what he'd think if I took over the house on Saturday, filling it with women and making a quilt, something we'd never done before.  He said, "I think that's a great idea!"  Proof positive that this was not just some wild idea I came up with - this was God's idea!  (Bill really likes his nice quiet Saturdays!) So my next step was to get on Facebook and e-mail, and check to see who would be interested in helping in a project for Kelley - - - and within a couple of hours, I had over a dozen people who were willing to help, without even knowing what we were going to do!  We arranged to meet at my house on Saturday morning to make a quilt.

Friday morning rolls around, and I brave the Black Friday crowds to go to the store to buy fabric for the quilt.  Because of the time constraint I decide to use the same pattern I was looking at for my granddaughter's quilt, a mystery quilt by M'Liss Hawley that has nine different blocks, all made from fat quarters.  I figured this would be easy for a group of women to work on - each could work on one specific block design.  But I had no idea what colors Kelley liked, and I couldn't get any guidance anywhere.  So I went in blind, and chose an earth tone pack containing six fat quarters, to which I added more fat quarters, background fabric, and borders.  I also picked up solid Kona cream for the backing, which I had a special plan for.  Went home and cut out all the pieces we would need for the quilt.  Got to work making food for the next morning - we are Baptist, and literally, if you feed us, we will show up for almost anything!

Saturday morning dawns, and fifteen women show up at my house to help out!  Two ladies didn't sew at all, but one is an artist and the other is an editor with beautiful handwriting.  They got to work on the back of the quilt, writing Bible verses and song lyrics and drawing beautiful flower bouquets, all designed to encourage Kelley when she read them, and to feel like she was wrapping herself in God's promises and love every time she used the quilt.

The rest of us started putting together the quilt top.  Fortune favors the brave - and the uninformed!  I had no idea then how difficult it should be to assemble a quilt sewed by so many different people, none of whom were experienced quilters!  But this was an excellent pattern to use, because it was very forgiving.

The top was finished by mid-afternoon, and the quilt was completed and given to the girl who would be delivering it on Sunday morning.  I named this quilt “Field of Dreams” to reflect the references from the Kevin Costner movie - it just seemed appropriate!

I’m pleased to say that Kelley had an excellent result from her surgery, which ended up not being as radical as they originally thought it would need to be, and they caught her cancer so early that there was no need for chemo or radiation!  

About a month after her surgery, Kelley asked me how I knew that her design notebook was covered with the exact colors in the quilt we made - all her favorites!  I told her it must have been a God thing - because I certainly didn't know what colors she liked when I picked them out!
Kelley is involved in the ministry now - she's not a sewer, but she makes beautiful stamped cards and makes all the note cards that we send with our quilts as her contribution to the ministry.

After Christmas 2009, the ladies started asking me when we would be making another quilt. Boy, was I surprised!  But I had begun making quilts for Quilts For Kids, so I ordered some kits for us to work on during our January meeting, and cut some more out of my fabric stash. We made nine quilts that day!

One of those quilts went to a little girl we found out about through the church prayer list.  

A couple of weeks later, one of the pastors asked for a quilt for a woman in our church with brain cancer, so we made a quilt for her.

From those humble beginnings, our ministry has expanded. We still have quilting bees occasionally, but the need is usually greater than we can meet just with quilting bees, so many of our quilts are made by individuals on their own.  We now have about fifteen women who have made at least one quilt for the ministry from start to finish, and more are learning every day!  In addition to making quilts for people battling health issues, we are now making quilts for newborns in our church and families that we are ministering to.  As of today, we have made and distributed 170 quilts since two years ago!

And our ministry would have been so much more difficult without the help of so many wonderful quilt bloggers - many of you have stepped forward and donated fabric, finished quilts, and UFOs by the boxful!

Because we are a relatively new and as-yet unfunded ministry (at least for right now!) we had been working with fabric from our own fabric stashes and what we could afford to buy.  The many many yards of fabric and the UFOs that were donated have made it possible for our ministry to grow and expand beyond anything I could have every dreamed of just two years ago.  And the completed quilts that were donated gave us some breathing space to get ahead of the need right at holiday time, when everyone's time is stretched thin anyway!  To each of you who have donated to our ministry, please know you are an important and much-appreciated partner in the ministry.

We call our ministry "Piece*Love*Quilt" - three little verbs that form our mission statement - we piece, we love, we quilt.  And while doing so we have expanded our little world to include so many people.  Women who said, "I can't quilt!" are now saying, "Do you need me to make another quilt?"  I have seen God at work in ways I would never have imagined before we started this ministry.  I can't wait to see what happens in the years to come as we continue to grow!
Look at those wonderful ladies!
It's been a long post, as promised, and I appreciate everyone who stuck with me all the way to the end!  I am so thankful for each and every one of you!!




  1. What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. I think God is always pleased when we allow Him to use us to bless someone else.

  2. What a marvelous story! From humble beginnings you have grown a ministry that is a blessing to so many! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and your quilting family.

  3. So wonderful to revisit beginings, thank you for sharing. And Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. Amazing how it's grown in just two short years! Congratulations!

  5. What am amazing story. Thanks for sharing. I had no idea how you got started with this, but I know you have blessed MANY people with your quilts.

  6. You know, I don't think I ever knew how you got started with the quilt ministry. What an amazing story, and look how many people you have helped over the last years as a result. Just beautiful.

  7. What a wonderful story, Sarah! You are doing wonderful work! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  8. Your group has touched so many lives with yor beautiful quilts. I have been blessed by your quilt ministry. You are my inspiration to keep sewing for others. May God coninue blessing your ministry. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story. I am amazed that you are only going on your second year! As well as it functions, I would have thought it was a long term organization. Kudos to all of you ladies and your families.

  10. Your story is both beautiful and inspiring. Read every word...

  11. How interesting. I'm Baptist, our youth pastors wife is named Kelly, too. She's healthy, thank goodness. God does work in mysterious ways, your story tells it well.

  12. Such commendable work! Way to go ladies!

  13. And I'M thankful that y'all are so willing to take my UFOs and put them to such noble work. Here's to many more years of quilting ahead!

  14. What a fabulous ministry. God certainly uses those who listen to His voice!

    Many blessings as you continue to touch lives in your special way!

    Happy sewing! CJ


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