Allison Evans joins us each month for our Sew Good series, featuring people who use their sewing skills to support others. Allison’s first profile featured Rachael Dorr’s work with Quilting a Memory. We also learned how sewing guilds can become more involved in charity sewing and about how individuals can participate in charity sewing through online groups.

Learn more about Allison on Instagram (@phdstitchery), and let us know if you have a Sew Good effort that could use a little more attention. Thanks!

The idea of charity sewing can sometimes be overwhelming. Who do I want to help? How can I help? I’m just one person… When Alison Robins (on Instagram @littleislandquilting and at Little Island Quilting) found herself at a children’s home in Mexico City on Christmas Day in 2013, wheels began to turn in her head. In a city with over 200,000 children living on the streets, homes like the one she visited become vital parts of society; they providing food and shelter for children who have nowhere else to go. The homes work to rehabilitate the children and provide them with basic skills so they can provide for themselves when they eventually age out of the system. The one that Robins found herself in on Christmas housed about 90 children and was a far cry from her own comfortable home; windows lacked glass, the walls were peeling, the air was stale and there was little that felt “homey.” As Robins says, “I took a quilt for a baby and some chocolate coins for the children. It felt fairly pathetic.”

Soy Amado quilts in a children’s home in Mexico City.

That feeling of inadequacy got her thinking… What if she could somehow provide quilts for the children living there? At almost 8,000 feet above sea level, Mexico City at times gets quite cold at night, so in one sense quilts were an extremely practical thing to give. After looking at so many different sewing-related charity projects in the past year or so, I now automatically ask people, why quilts? (Or sewing in general.) Robins’ reply echoed what I’ve heard from a lot of people in all different types of situations: “Why quilts? Because when I visited the home in Mexico City I was struck how basic and poor the building looked. The children had nothing that was new, nothing that had been made especially for them. You look at what you can do with the skills you have and I thought a quilt on every bed would brighten the place up. Most of the beds don’t have pillows on them.”

Children at a home in Johannesburg, receiving Soy Amado quilts.

And so, in January of 2014, Robins issued a request on her blog: “I have an idea to send more quilts so that at least every child there has something special that belongs just to them… If I can find a way, will you help me?” Robins started with the goal of making or collecting around 70 quilts to send to the home, but realized that (as with so many things) the economics involved in people sending her completed quilt tops to then forward on to Mexico City from her home in the U.K. would be cost-prohibitive. Figuring out a work-around, she instead asked people to send her quilted 12.5” blocks, completed using the “quilt as you go” method, which she could then easily assemble into finished quilts using 20 blocks per quilt. “Maybe you have some orphan blocks lying around?” she asked. “If they are too big, cut them down to size; too small, add a border.” Putting forth her call for blocks, Robins started a Flickr group called Soy Amado (Spanish for “I am loved”) where people could post their blocks, and the #soyamadoquilts hashtag was launched.

More Soy Amado quilts in Mexico City.

Fast forward to 2016, and Robins has met her goal. Last year she received over 1500 quilt blocks (from, in her words, “total strangers!”) and about 20 completed quilts. The Soy Amado project was able to provide quilts for that children’s home in Mexico City, and is now working on making quilts for a children’s home in Johannesburg, South Africa. As I mentioned earlier, starting a project like Soy Amado might sound overwhelming to someone sitting at home thinking, what can I do? When I asked her if there was anything Robins would like people to know about starting a charity sewing project, she replied, “I would just like people to know that we can all do something. We’re all (probably) swimming in WIPs and excess fabric. Take a little time to think what you could do with it, to the benefit of others. Life is far too short to not at least try to make a difference [and] to do what we can when we see an opportunity.” Robins cautions, though, that deciding to embark on any type of charity sewing venture needs to be well-thought out. “I think when you offer,” she says, “You have to be careful that you aren’t creating a need that doesn’t really exist, i.e. no one was shouting out and saying ‘we need quilts.’ However, the project has completely transformed the sleeping areas of the children and each child now has something that belongs just to them. Each quilt has been labeled by the home so they know which one belongs to whom when they are washed.”

A cozy, new Soy Amado quilt in Johannesburg.

Looking at some photos of the quilts at the children’s home in Mexico City and of the children in Johannesburg receiving their quilts, it’s easy to see how something as “small” as a quilt can make a huge difference. Reflecting on one such photo, Robins writes on her blog, “I am hugely, hugely appreciative that the end result looks like this.” But she also says, “But [I am] also a little bit sad in the sense that it is ‘just’ quilts and I wish I could do more. I will continue to do this for as long as people send me blocks, which I hope you will. Because I realize that in some ways they are more than ‘just’ quilts. They are a representation that people around the world do care and we are all trying to help in the little ways we can, with the skills we possess.” Robins said it perfectly; they are far more than “just” quilts.

Here’s more information about the project at Little Island Quilting, and here’s the most recent update with additional photos.