By Lynell Morgan
Bordered by brown fields of beans and corn awaiting harvest and in the shadows of the regal Catholic church in Raeville, the St. Bonaventure Parish Hall was a hive of activity last week.
Had you stepped through the doors last Tuesday morning, you would been greeted with the quick-paced hum of sewing machines, the purposeful chatter and the movement of workers from one table to another to another. These were ladies on a mission and that mission was to provide for those who would go without the warmth of a blanket in the cold of the winter.
According to Kathy Buelt of Raeville, this “quilting bee” of sorts all began with a chance conversation she had with a financial agent.
“Dale and I are Thrivent (Financial) members and he said ‘oh, you guys are quilters! Would you be interested? – we have a lady that loves to make tops but doesn’t like to quilt.’ So he had these tops and he said ‘you can take as many as you want’”, Buelt told The Elgin Review.
Timeline of the project
The project was started with those three tops Buelt took by members of the Raeville (St. Bonaventure) quilters in 2013. Those three quilts were given to the Rescue Mission in Norfolk.
In 2014, they bought hand-painted fabric from Baker Street in Neligh and used a bolt of flannel for the backing and old blankets for the batting. Piecing together about a dozen blankets that year, they donated those blankets to Bright Horizons in Norfolk.
As word spread about the need for the blankets and this special project, they were joined by members of the Petersburg (St. Johns) quilters. In the fall of 2015, they received donations of fabric, sheets, bed spreads, blankets and mattress pads from various members and the Elgin Bargain Box.
In the spring of 2016, they worked at Werner Hall in Petersburg and tied over 30 blankets. In the fall they were able to have their work days in the new Raeville parish hall. Members of the Elgin (St. Boniface) quilters joined in the mix in the fall session. With the extra help, they were able to tie an additional 70 blankets, making their total completed in 2016 an unbelievable 100 blankets.
Earlier this spring, they gathered for two days in Petersburg where they tied 65 blankets that have already been distributed. UPDATE: After the print edition was completed, we found out that 55 additional blankets were completed during last week’s sessions. This brings the 2017 total to 120 blankets!
Along with the new faces in 2016, the group was handed a new source for fabric….a wonderful source of fabric! Arlene Nissen of Petersburg had been providing tops to the group. Nissen was sent a box of fabric samples by her granddaughter, Nicole Nissen-Hewitt.
Hewitt works for this “little fabric company“ called Richloom Fabrics, located in New York City – one of the largest suppliers of textiles in the United States. Call it luck, chance or an answer to prayers, no matter the name – this was a God-send to the group. These beautiful and high-quality fabric samples which had been going to the landfill were now going to be used to keep those in need warm. Richloom has even joined the group in their efforts by not only donating the fabric but also paying for the shipping of the samples to the group. According to Buelt, the boxes containing those samples weigh between 50 to 80 pounds. Word back to the group is that “they (Richlooms) are so pleased to see this go to a worthy cause”.
While the church groups have been a core to this project, the workers are not exclusive to one faith as they welcome anyone who is wanting and willing to help. Each session seems to see new faces of all ages and finds new talent.
At Tuesday morning’s session, there were three new workers. New worker Lori Pelster was more than happy to help. “They told me I would be tying so I thought we would be tying fleece blankets.” Imagine her surprise when she was given a needle and thread! Tying, in this case, is looping a stitch of thread or yarn to “tie” the three layers (top, batting and backing) together.
In addition to Buelt, fellow “old-timers” Rita Schrage, Mary Ann Fangman, Ann Beckman and Mary Margaret Starman were working that day and have been there from the beginning.
According to Rita Schrage, quilting has changed from her early days when she first learned the art of quilting. “I can remember the first time (quilting)…I got an embroidery hoop out”, she said. With the number of quilters in or reaching their eighties in age, the ladies expressed their desire of seeing of younger generations take up the art.
The Quilters’ Process
“Every time we get together, we find an easier way, a more efficient way of doing things,” said Buelt.
No blanket would be completed without a plan of action. Buelt explained the process.
“The first thing we do is we put the top together. We started with doing whole clothe (take the whole sheet and put a middle and a back to it). Now we are getting down to our “stash” and using up our smaller pieces,” she said. Courtesy of Richloom’s donation, they are using high-quality upholstery fabrics for the tops – fabric that would be used for curtains, bedding and more.
On this morning, they had four sewing machines set up (putting the three layers together/stitching the edging), one ironing/pressing station, an area where they turned the blanket inside out and a station for tying the blankets
Thrivent Financial gives $250 to charity and the group has used those funds to purchase batting and flannel.
Where the blankets go
“We didn’t realize how big of a need there was,” Buelt said. While many think of only the homeless and consider homelessness a “big city problem”, many overlook that people in need are found everywhere.
Blankets made by the group have been distributed to: The Rescue Mission in Norfolk, Columbus and York; Bright Horizons of Norfolk; Simon House For Domestic Violence Survivors of Columbus; Siena/Francis House (for homeless veterans) in Omaha and Catholic Charities of Lincoln.
They continue to be open to new places to donate and new faces to join in this venture. If you would like to help in any way, please contact Buelt, Fangman or Juan Hoefer of Elgin for more information.