Group takes comfort in quilts’ destination

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

HARRISON — The quilters might not ever meet the children who admire the colors, run their fingers over the patterns, and warm themselves with the quilts.

Still, the women who belong to the Harrison-based Patchwork Piece Makers quilting group keep meeting every Wednesday for a few hours. They keep on selecting patterns and designs, measuring and cutting material. They continue to create quilts.

It has been 19 years since the group started making and donating quilts to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland.

They meet as much for the unknown children at the hospital as they do for familiar friendship of the other women in the group.

“I do this for the fellowship and for the satisfaction that the quilts are going to the kids. We are providing cuddly things to the sick children,” Joanne Bulla said. 

Iris White agreed.

“It is the comradery with my friends. I love being with these women,” White said. “Also, it is where they are going — to the children. I feel like I am doing something worthwhile.”

Currently, the Patchwork Piece Makers have a stash of about 75 quilts to be delivered to the hospital. In early December, the women displayed the quilts during Christmas in Harrison. Since then, they have added a few more quilts to the batch. A woman, who works as neonatal nurse at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, picks up the quilts and brings them to the hospital.

The quilting group has heard kind comments from the hospital staff, according to Sheila Baxter.

“We met a couple of the families the times we have been down there. We have a letter from one of them. It was emotional for all of us,” Baxter said.

Most of the time, the quilters do not meet the children. Likewise, the young patients do not meet the women who sewed the quilts. 

“They just know it was a quilter who donated it,” she said.

Baxter is not a quilter. She used to operate the Harrison House B&B; and the quilting group met in its large, well-lit breakfast room. Baxter refers to herself as the runner.

Donating the quilts “gives comfort not only to the kids but also the parents. We hear comments from the nurses. We would hear how much the family appreciates it. It gives them comfort to see the child wrapped up in a handmade quilt,” Baxter said.

“Someone did a quilt with skateboarders on it. One of the kids who was there was nine years old and loved skateboarders. The staff dug through the bag to find it. He was sick as a dog, but he was overjoyed with the quilt,” she said.

Other popular themes include Harry Potter and sports teams like the Boston Bruins and the New England Patriots, Joanne Bulla said.

“We try to choose fabrics and colors that are bright and kids will be drawn to. I did a quilt of fox faces. They just loved it,” Theo Ross said.

Barbara Godwin likes getting feedback from women in the group whenever she starts a new project.

“When I do something I try to do it with a child in mind. I am not one to keep doing the same pattern. I want variety. I like to do something smaller for babies. Or I do something for teenagers. I did a quilt with the Bratz dolls. I try to think of things that a five-year old up to teen would like — based on what is popular on TV or games or cartoons,” Godwin said.

 In 2016, there was an open house for the public when the new unit of the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital was completed. The quilters were invited and they were delighted to see their quilts covering the beds.

On Wednesday, when the women met, the conversations focused on icy walkways, the common cold and how Christmas was spent. Sooner or later, talks turn to recipes and restaurants.

“I always call this information central. We talk about anything going on in town,” Bulla said.

The women hardly ever run out of topics to talk about during the hours they spend working on quilts.

However, they do run out of spools of thread.

Donated scrap material is great, but the right type of thread is not often the right type of thread that is donated. 

According to Baxter, the group sets aside money for thread and other needed supplies. About two years ago, the group started meeting in the basement of the Harrison United Parish Congregational Church. There is a cost associated with using the space from 9 a.m. to noon every Wednesday, she said. 

“We put money in every month so that we would have money to buy supplies,” Baxter said, adding that a group member usually donates the batting.

Years ago, after an article ran in The Village Voice and the then-town manager put some information about the quilters in his weekly newsletter that appeared online, residents started donating bags of material. Also, during Harrison Old Home Days, a woman purchased a quilt with John Deere tractors on it. The quilt was sold and the funds went toward buying more supplies, Baxter said.

Now-a-days, the women pay dues once a month to cover supplies and the space rentals.

The quilters are a close-knit group, Theo Ross said.

“I love them all. We are a close group. It was probably when I came here 11 years ago when I was introduced to them. That was a lifesaver for me,” Ross said. “I didn’t know anyone. And I was a quilter from way back. I could do quilting in a small way. Large quilts I had given away.

“This solved that problem: I could quilt, but I wasn’t spending a lot of money and it is for a good cause,” she said.

Martha Pinkham was in the quilting club before it started donating the quilts to the hospital in 2000. She stressed that Patchwork Piece Makers is not the only group that donates to the hospital. Quilters from all over Maine do this, she said.

Pinkham looks forward to Wednesdays.

“I like the creativity of everyone getting together. Every one throws their ideas together. We all work together, helping each other pick out colors. We usually have our own design. It is fun,” Pinkham said.

“I like giving to the hospital,” she said. “A few times, we were at the hospital and the quilts were on the bed and it took away the starkness of the room.”

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