Yesterday we told you a bit about the book, Quilting for Peace, and our plans to follow through with a little sewing activism of our own. We also told Katherine Bell, the author of Quilting for Peace, about Team Sew,Mama,Sew!. We know that it feels good to make something and give it away, but we thought we’d get Katherine’s take on why it’s important.  So we asked her, “why make things to give to charity? Why not just give money?”

Katherine’s response:

While I was writing this book, I thought a lot about why sewing — and even more generally making things that could easily be bought — is such an incredibly effective way of helping people in need. Why is a quilt, for example, so much more valuable a gift than a store-bought blanket of equal size and weight or, for that matter, a check for the cost of that blanket?

Here’s what I learned from the inspiring and thoughtful crafters I interviewed for the book:

It’s about treating people like family and creating a small piece of home. Most of the quilting groups I profiled that make quilts for homeless people specify that volunteers should put as much effort into the making of each quilt as they would into quilts for members of their own family. This is counterintuitive in a way – why wouldn’t you just make quilts as quickly as possible, so you could give more of them to people in need? But as Pascha Griffiths, who started Beloved Quilts ( explained to me, “You wouldn’t skimp on a quilt you were making for your parent or your child,” and by not skimping on a quilt for a stranger, you wrap that person in love and respect as well as warmth. When people are displaced from their homes – in battered women’s shelters and refugee camps, for example — possessing a small piece of handmade, useful beauty can come to represent home for them, and that brings infinitely more hope than a barebones blanket. The uniqueness of each quilt is important, too. According to the director of an orphanage in Thailand, quilts donated to the children are not only often the only bright spots in an otherwise dreary place; they’re also often the only possessions that belong to the children alone, the only things they don’t have to share with anybody else.

Quilts are remarkably good at transferring the message that something — or someone — matters. A young veteran suffering from PTSD wrote in a thank-you note to the Quilts of Valor ( volunteer who’d made him a quilt, “What really moved me about the quilt was the personal touch. My quilt isn’t another military medal to be placed in a box and sat on a shelf, but something that was given to me by a woman I may never have the pleasure of meeting, just because she cared…It’s the love and warmth that went into every stitch of the quilt that brings me comfort.” Again and again, I heard that quilters poured their concern and care and outrage over injustice into the quilts they made and that the recipients of those quilts — wounded soldiers, children in orphanages in China and Africa, the survivors of Hurricane Katrina — felt the warmth and intensity of the quiltmakers’ feelings. And there’s a long history of this. During the Civil War, Northern women stitched more than a quarter million quilts for the Union troops, as well as uniforms, socks, pillows, and bed-ticks (makeshift mattresses). Their efforts were practical and essential — without them, many more soldiers would have died. But they also reminded the men that people at home worried for them. One woman pinned this note to the quilt she sent to a stranger: “My son is in the army. Whoever is made warm by this quilt, which I have worked on for six days and most of six nights, let him remember his mother’s love.”

Susannah Pullen’s Civil War Quilt from the Smithsonian Collection

Giving is one of the greatest pleasures of crafting. So this month please make something for someone you will probably never meet, someone who needs not just a blanket but hope and dignity and love.

Someone hand me a tissue. Thanks so much, Katherine. That was beautiful and inspirational!

If you’d like to read more about Quilting for Peace, Katherine, and her writing process, check out some of the recent interviews with her on these other great blogs:

True Up

Contemporary Cloth

Pink of Perfection

The Last Piece

STC Craft (the publisher)

Please join us tomorrow when we’ll tell you about Wrap Them in Love and our first Quilting for Peace Team Sew,Mama,Sew! project.