Quilting team blankets shelters, orphanages

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published March 11, 1998 in The Suburban Life, added March 9, 2018.

Some of the women who work every third Wednesday in the Quilt Outreach project in Madeira are, from left, Jo Ann Sexton, Liz Bell, and Elizabeth Clifton.

Hello, My name is Regina, and I’m a quilt-a-holic.

My closest friends know this about me, and they try to be there for me, at all times.  They never let anyone show me her great-grandmother’s antique quilt.  They see to it that I’m always tied up whenever there’s a quilt show in the area.  And they never, ever let me get invited to a quilting bee.

With their help, I manage to stay straight, most of the time, and stick to my life, which is writing.  Why, I haven’t even written a quilting story for almost two whole years.

But things happen, and I have recently gone over the edge.

When no one was around for me to call, I went up to Creative Cottage a few weeks ago and peeked in on the women who quilt there in the basement, making quilts for the quilting project of Marie Tscalis.

Since then, my stories lie in various unfinished stages, and all I can think about is quilting.

Marie, the owner of the Creative Cottage, began he “Quilting for the Homeless” five years ago, with the idea to make patchwork quilts to donate to area homeless shelters.  She held a quilt-a-thon, sort of an all-day quilting bee, and 200 women showed up to work.  They made 115 quilts, in the Log Cabin pattern, and donated them to homeless shelters.

The second year, 143 quilts were made at the quilt-a-thon.  That year, they used a God’s Eye pattern.

The third year, they introduced a new pattern, the Windy City, though they still used some of their previous patterns.

The quilting project has grown and expanded, year by year.  Each year, they up their goal of finished quilts.  Before this year’s big quilting bee, they already had donated more than 1,00 quilts to 14 organizations, since 1993.

Since they now donate quilts to other organizations in addition to homeless shelters, they have changed the name of the group to Quilt Outreach.  They also now provide quilts to children’s groups and orphanages, such as the St. Aloysius Orphanage and the Ronald McDonald House.  People and children who are given quilts are allowed to take them when they leave or go home.

The project has become too big for Marie Tscalis to captain alone.  First, she brought in Shirley Burse to help her.  They have now been joined by another leader, Bonnie Maples.

This year’s all-day quilt-a-thon, in February, was at three locations.  Shirley and Bonnie headed up the two Madeira groups at St. Paul Methodist and Madeira Presbyterian Churches.  Marie captained a group in a church on the west side of Cincinnati, to accommodate quilters who came over from Indiana.

On the appointed day, volunteers show up almost before dawn, to spend a long, long day, quilting together.  They come bearing portable sewing machines, rotary cutters, cutting boards, irons, and supplies.  Some bring their own thread.

All day long, they work, talk, laugh, and visit as women have done at quilting bees since Colonial days.

After the quilt-a-thon, Phil Beckman donates the facilities and equipment of his business, the Drapery Stitch in Mariemont, for the sandwiching and machine quilting of some of the quilts.  Many of the quilts are finished by hand tying, either at the Creative Cottage or in volunteers’ homes.

Quilt Outreach is not just an annual occurrence.  The work goes on all year long.  Shirley and Bonnie are there in the Creative Cottage basement in Madeira on the third Wednesday of every month, working with volunteers to put quilt kits together.  There is always work to do, and volunteer help is always welcomed.

They also welcome donations of fabric, batting, thread, and floss.  Volunteers do all work, and all donations are used for quilts.

On one Wednesday when I was there, a man came in and dumped five or six large, plastic bags of fabric on the floor, with the explanation that he and his wife were cleaning house.

When this happens, Shirley and Bonnie drool.  They know donations like this will produce scads of quilts.

Bonnie has brought a new excitement to the program, because of her ideas and creativity.

“We call her ‘the designer’ because she comes up with such good ideas,” Shirley said.

In the beginning, the group stuck with a standard strip-quilting pattern such as Log Cabin, but Bonnie has added variety by making up patterns to suit their materials.  She believes in wasting nothing.  She also knows how to combine bits and pieces, or parts of various patterns, to come up with a beautiful quilt.

“You work with what you have,” she told me.  Someone donated an animal print fabric.  By careful cutting, she put together a beguiling children’s quilt with an animal theme.

Sometimes, they get pieces and parts of quilts, or blocks, or parts of quilts that people started, but never finished.  Bonnie will take these and search through their stash of fabrics and come up with ideas for completing a quilt of the parts.  She will sometimes combine various patterns.

“Everything doesn’t have to perfectly match,” she said.

Elizabeth Clifton, a regular worker and volunteer, was urged to show me a beautiful quilt she had designed and made.

“After making a quilt like this, don’t you bond with it and hate to give it away?”

I asked her.

“Not really,” she said.  “I have lots of quilts.  My house is full of them,” the woman must live in heaven.

If you’d like to become a quilt-a-holic, just call the Creative Cottage at 271-2038, and ask about the quilters.  They’re there on any third Wednesday.

But let me warn you, It’s addictive You’ll find yourself dreaming up quilt designs like ‘Happy Incident,’ my latest brain child.  And you may as well forget about your other work, unless you put in a call to Quilters Anonymous.