TRAVERSE CITY — Quilting became popular in America during the 19th century. Today, northern Michigan boasts many quilting groups like Fellowship Quilters of Traverse City.
The 25-year-old group meets twice a month at the Presbyterian Church: once for a sewing session and another time for a program and business meeting.
Barb Roberts, a member since 1995, helps organize their charity work. Roberts said they try to tailor each quilt so that it is age and gender appropriate. This means smaller items for babies and children and larger ones for teenagers and adults.
“The needs in this community are amazing,” Roberts said.
Roberts named nearly a dozen different projects, but said one tops the list.
“Number one is always Habitat for Humanity,” she said. “It’s been on at least 10 years. We try to make sure everyone member of every family gets a quilt at the home dedication. It’s a delight to watch the children receive theirs.”
Other ongoing work includes making heart pillows for Munson Medical Center’s cardiac unit, lap quilts for Meals on Wheels, weighted blankets for students at Oak Park School, quilts for Munson Hospice House and area veterans and maze puzzles for kids and adults. Roberts said they donated hundreds of quilts since the group began.
Weighted and fidget blankets are more challenging to make, but Roberts said they are important. Weighted blankets are filled with rice and come apart so the exterior can be washed. Fidget blankets feature buttons, beads and other objects that are meant to be played with.
“It’s a calming mechanism for the child,” Roberts said, noting that they can help children who have autism. “We need to take care of our children.”
Lin Alessio started Stitches of Kindness several years ago in memory of her husband and mother, who died around the same time. Though the group began at the Grand Traverse County Senior Center Network in Interlochen, it now meets at Samaritas Senior Living in Williamsburg.
Every year, Stitches of Kindness meets with representatives from local organizations including Green Lake Township, North Flight EMS, Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department and Munson Hospice House. First responders later give the quilts to people en route to the hospital, and hospice personnel give them to patients at the end of life.
“They are the faces that the injured see as they receive the Covers of Love, which is what we call our quilts,” Alessio said. “Like a quilt, when we come together we are a thing of beauty and art, of strength and kindness. We are a cover of love for those that need us. It is a beautiful thing.”
Peter LaPlaca, of Traverse City, said Alessio is dedicated to the cause.
“She has a pole barn full of hundreds of yards of materials — some purchased, some donated,” LaPlaca said. “It’s a lot of work. Some [quilts] are labor intensive; some are works of art.”
LaPlaca helps distribute the quilts from donors to Alessio’s home.
“The quilts come from all different directions, from Elk Rapids or different places around Traverse City,” he said.
He added that there are about 20 members, though that number fluctuates as snowbirds leave in the winter. Despite the smaller membership, the group donated 130 quilts in February 2018 and about 80 in 2017.
Green Lake Township Supervisor Marvin Radtke said they are honored to receive quilts and blankets from Stitches of Kindness. Radtke said when they follow up with people after their hospital stay, they always mention the items.
“It is very well received,” he said. “Recipients are very grateful. It’s almost to the point where it’s necessary to comfort patients as best as possible.”
Radtke added that township staff members also collect stuffed animals for children to supplement the blankets.
Both the Fellowship Quilters and Stitches of Kindness accept donated materials and are open to new members, no matter their sewing skill level.
“If they want to come in and just learn, we’re a teaching, learning group,” Roberts said. “We’re quiet, cool and collected.”