NEWFANE—The women who are members of the Sew Whats celebrated their 1,000-quilt milestone and their fifth anniversary of participating in Project Linus at their monthly meeting on July 17 at the Newfane Congregational Church.
Project Linus, named for the security blanket-carrying character in the Peanuts comic strip, is a national nonprofit that has given countless blankets — their term — to hospitals all over the country.
As stated on their website, Project Linus works to provide love and a sense of security, warmth, and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new handmade blankets and afghans lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.”
The organization provides a rewarding and fun service opportunity for interested individuals and groups in local communities for the benefit of children.
Since 1995, Project Linus estimates it has donated nearly 4.3 million handmade blankets to help comfort those younger than 18 years old who are in need and are patients in hospitals, shelters, and hospices.
Vermont’s chapter is in Townshend and is led by Christine Cathcart, who notes that many of the quilts made locally are given to children at Grace Cottage Hospital.
“We distribute close to a thousand quilts a year to six Vermont hospitals, to bereavement centers such as Camp Knock Knock, to Kurn Hattin [a residential home and school for boys and girls at risk, or in need], and others,” Cathcart said.
“I believe the Sew Whats’ quilt 1,000 went to Springfield Hospital,” Cathcart reported.
Sewing and fellowship
The Sew Whats, a quilting group with anywhere from 12 to two dozen or more participating members at any given time, have met weekly at the Newfane church in the late afternoon for more than 10 years, to sew or to do whatever needle-, yarn-, and fabric-craft they choose and then to have a communal dinner.
As described by member Marilyn Distelberg, “We sew, sometimes on a group piece, or people just bring individual stuff. We eat, we talk, and occasionally we get a little sewing done.”
“It’s about sewing, but it’s also about fellowship,” she said.
Some Sew Whats members also make quilts for Project Linus at these meetings; others might just help out from time to time or with specific tasks, such as tying, a method of quilt finishing. Some might work on the Linus quilts at home. Other quilters are not members of the Sew Whats.
At this July meeting, the 12 women did their work with ease while they socialized and talked about the quilts, their sewing machines (some of them are beauties), as well as their lives in general.
All maintained their distinct personalities in the group as they moved from table to table and cut, blocked, layered, basted, sewed, edged and tied, all the while keeping the basic rules of geometry in their heads.
They spent the afternoon doing this, sometimes snacking on goodies they’ve brought. The prize at the end of this afternoon was their communal salad for dinner. In the winter, they make “stone soup,” the legendary name they’ve given to a great pot of broth that has been enriched with whatever the members bring to put in it.
‘My family has enough’
Ginny Grabowski of Newfane says she joined the Sew Whats soon after it started, and the Linus project when that started five years ago.
“It’s rewarding,” she said. “I think I like to make quilts, and my family has enough. So now, I make them for Linus.”
And, like many quilters, she conceded that sometimes the design and construction are difficult.
Asked what she liked best about doing quilts, she said, “It’s hard to say. The part I hate least is figuring what fabric and pattern to use. It can take two to four hours to make a Linus-sized quilt [more or less crib-size], and sometimes we can do one in an afternoon.”
She feels the quilts help traumatized children.
“It works in so many ways,” Grabowski said. “I think about how the quilts can calm children when they’re getting stitches.”
Leona Tabell of Newfane, also a Sew Whats member for more than a decade, said she’d always wanted to quilt, but didn’t know how. Now that she knows how, she’s making quilts for Project Linus.
“I started making potholders,” she explained with some humor, “and I graduated to quilts, small and large.”
“I’d already made quilts for my sister’s children and grandchildren, so when Project Linus came along I was happy to join a service group,” Tabell said. “I was at the first Linus session in Newfane.”
Agreeing that some patterns are tricky, she thought perhaps that the 32 years she had spent teaching senior high school math in Uniondale, N.Y., might have given her a design advantage.
The fellowship mentioned by Distelberg continues throughout most of the afternoon and it continues quietly, even though there is a constant exchange of questions and answers, usually about some quilting technicality.
And Distelberg, who, with her husband, owns the Newfane Country Store and is a longtime quilter, noted that each Linus quilt gets a label that says “Made With Love by Sew Whats, Newfane, Vermont.” A Project Linus label is also attached.
Distelberg also sells quilts of varying sizes, sometimes her own, at the store, and she does quilt repairs.
The material and the supplies for the quilting are often donated by the Linus workers, says Distelberg.
“It’s part of sharing,” she said. “It’s women pooling their resources to create something that benefits other people.”