Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 11, 2013

Senior Focus: Creating 'covers of love'

BY KATHLEEN GEST
Special to the Record-Eagle

— For over a year now, dedicated ladies — and a few gentlemen — have met faithfully, using their passion and talents to create more than 100 quilts for injured children and adults. The assembled group, called Stitches of Kindness, originated at the Senior Center Network’s satellite location in Interlochen and was founded by Linn Alessio.

“Linn first came to us at Interlochen in the grief support group after losing her husband,” said Sharon Neumann, outreach coordinator for the Senior Center Network. “She was searching for something to do that had meaning for the memory of her husband and her mother…ultimately, she realized that she wanted to do something with quilting.”

“I had lost my mother and my husband within nine months of each other,” Alessio explains. “Everyone grieves and honors their loved ones differently, but for me personally, the way that I could honor them the most was to give back some of the love and kindness they gave to me. Quilts had been in my family for years. To me, a quilt is not a blanket — a quilt is a cover of love.”

Quilting can be traced back to ancient Egypt and China, where three layers of fabrics — top, batting for warmth and backing — were stitched together in such a way as to keep the middle layer from slipping and clumping.

Quilting in America became popular in the 19th century and has become a unique American custom because it was developed as a blend of different ethnic and cultural traditions.

The patchwork and appliqué designs that were created are distinctly American. Quilts are also an important part of American Folk Art.

Once Alessio finalized the vision of what she wanted to do, Neumann put the program in place and secured time for it in the Senior Center’s schedule.

Alessio’s next step was to talk to a skilled quilter. In her case, that was Necia Bugai. Bugai helped Alessio select a good sewing machine model and came up with a few simple sewing designs for the quilts. With the sewing machines she purchased and a pile of material, she descended on the Senior Center in Interlochen.

“Some of the participants in Stitches of Kindness had never sewn before, some were accomplished quilters, but every quilt was beautiful and their generosity of time and talent was amazing,” Alessio said. “The list of people besides Necia was wonderful and long. I was just happy to become a provider of stuff.”

At one point when her mother broke her hip, an EMS vehicle was called. Her mother was not only in a lot of pain, it was cold outside.

“I will always remember her saying, ‘I am so cold,’” recalled Alessio. “And so I thought, giving a quilt out to children and adults that are injured … that they can keep while they are moving around the hospital and can take home with them, would be a source of comfort and a way for all of us to say that we care.”

As a result, the quilts created at the Senior Center in Interlochen were donated to the Green Lake Township EMS and Grand Traverse Rural Fire Department. They are given for comfort and warmth to those patients being taken to the hospital.

Stitches of Kindness didn’t stop in Interlochen. The program is now in the Senior Center Network’s satellite location in Acme at Hope Village.

Stitches of Kindness participants are also making hospice quilts, have quilts ready to go to Goodwill Inn for families starting life over and are donating quilts to North Flight and other EMS units.

Alessio is willing to support any group that will help keep her tradition strong. Recently, a group of women along with Alessio created 22 lap quilts for veterans in just one weekend.

“There are different steps to making a quilt, so even if you can’t sew, maybe you can cut material, sort material into colors that go together or iron — whatever your skill level is, it’s put to use,” Neumann emphasized. “We find a part of the quilt that matches your ability.”

Alessio contends, “One action, one kindness at a time stitches a community together and creates a place where we all want to live.”

The quilters meet on Thursdays at both the Interlochen (1 p.m.) and Acme (2 p.m.) locations. For more information, call Sharon Neumann at 620-3750 or email her at sneumann@grandtraverse.org