We really enjoy featuring sewing charities and people who sew for others in times of need. We asked Allison Evens to renew our Sew Good series, highlighting some of this important work. Allison is an art historian, now home with her sweet toddler and a “grumpy but lovable dog!” (Her little one even has her own hashtag, #drbabygreta.) Allison is a quilter by night in Ohio, though she will “always be a New Yorker!”

You can follow Allison’s happy days and beautiful quilting via Instagram (@phdstitchery). If you know of any groups in your area that are doing good through sewing and might be a good fit for the Sew Good series, please let Allison know. Drop her a note (phdstitchery @ gmail.com). She’ll have a new Sew Good article every month!

Allison’s first profile features the important work of Rachael Dorr, founder of Quilting a Memory, a non-profit charity dedicated to creating quilts to honor lost or fallen U.S. service men and women.

What do you do when a loved one passes away? Do you box up their belongings and tuck them away in storage? Donate them? Leave them where they are? And how do you help a friend who loses someone? These are not easy questions, and certainly hold no easy answers. If you’re a quilter, there’s a good chance you make something when someone you know suffers a loss. It’s a way of saying, I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what, so I made this for you. For Rachael Dorr, the idea of making something that might offer a bit of comfort after a terrible loss led to the creation of Quilting a Memory, a 501(c)(3) charity.

Dorr comes from a long history of making, and as a child experienced the joy of receiving something handmade. Her lovingly homemade rabbit (Rachael Rabbit) became a prized possession for her as she grew older. As an adult, she found that there was something very compelling about creating something that would both give so much joy and comfort to the recipient, while putting so much love into the creating process. Years later, Rachael Rabbit would be one of the sparks for Quilting a Memory, a charity that can now barely keep up with orders.

Quilting a Memory is a “charity dedicated to providing free quilting services to the families of lost or fallen U.S. service men and women.” Families send Dorr their loved one’s clothing and uniforms, and Dorr then turns those pieces of fabric into a quilt. A few years ago, after realizing that making meaningful things is what brings her joy, Dorr decided to leave her job to concentrate on quilting. She bought a longarm and fell in love with free motion quilting.

An early request for a quilt from a woman who lost her husband in Iraq left Dorr feeling overwhelmed. “I didn’t know where to start,” she says, “but wanted to make something special, beautiful.” When she made the quilt, she recalls, she was so happy with the finished product “because it really means something, and was really peaceful.” So Dorr started reaching out to agencies that work with the families of veterans, fire men and women and police officers, etc. She found that there was no money to be had for fundraising. So her new charity, Quilting a Memory, was born to cover the costs of creating the quilts for families free of charge.

After the first few quilts, she was surprised at how much she enjoyed providing this service. Although the work is often emotional, particularly her communication with the families, the end results and the family responses have been well worth it. Their reactions, she says, are what drive her to do her very best. “This provides an outlet,” says Dorr, “for all the things people have touched that can be turned into something beautiful.” And while the communication can be sad, she stresses, “It’s a real honor to be able to do this, it’s not something that’s sad [to quilt], it’s an honor.”

A fan of recycling and repurposing, Dorr also likes that these quilts are both beautiful and practical. They provide an alternative to boxes in closets, and can be a source of physical comfort. While talking about one particular quilt, Dorr noted that the recipient is not just keeping warm under a quilt, “She’s cuddling up under her mum.” Not many things can replicate the touch of a mother, but the physical presence of her clothes, cut up and sewn back together in a quilt, can be a reminder of her.

Dorr also aims to create quilts that will be used. While communicating with families she tries to get a sense of the recipient’s home and style to try to complement it; she doesn’t want the quilt to be received and stored on a shelf. She wants the quilt to be used and loved. Depending on the recipient, a quilt that will last the test of time can be tricky. For one quilt made for a seven year old daughter, Dorr wanted to make something that would be liked now by a little girl but that would also be something she could enjoy years later as she got older.

At this point, Quilting a Memory is a full time commitment for Dorr, all day, every day. And there is a waiting list of people who would like quilts made. She aims to finish a quilt every week or two, but there is always something new waiting. To defer some of her costs she funnels all proceeds from her quilts for publications back into the charity, and relies heavily on donations (which can be made via paypal on her Quilting a Memory website). In addition to quilting free of charge for these families, Dorr also takes in paid commission memorial quilts.

It can be tough to balance her dedication to the charity with her own work and life. Dorr’s passion for the charity is clear, and in talking about it she says, “I’ve never worked so hard at anything. I have put every inch of my effort into each piece.” That effort is in response to how much responsibility she feels each time a family mails her a box of their loved one’s clothing and uniforms; in working so hard on each aspect of the quilting process, she tries to reflect how much trust they’ve put into her. In one instance, a woman sent a box of her father’s clothes, labelled each piece, and included things such as the suit her father had worn to walk her down the aisle. Though Dorr felt a lot of responsibility being trusted with so many memories, the woman’s response, she says, made it so worth it. As most quilters know, in a time of much sadness, quilts can provide a bit of peace to the recipients.

Learn more about Rachael Dorr and her work at Quilting a Memory.

Our Sew Good series is sponsored by Riley Blake Designs, a manufacturer of high quality cotton, organic cotton, flannel, knits, laminate cotton, minky and sparkle cotton fabrics. Their fabrics are primary used in the quilting, clothing and home decor industries. They have teamed up with talented artists to bring you beautiful and unique designs, that will inspire you and your love of fabric.

Riley Blake Designs seeks to inspire and connect creative minds with innovative and high-quality products.

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