From left, Sunshine Guild president Angie Swift, member Rae Salkeld, and Vice-President Stephanie Alcock show off comfort quilts created by members over the winter, thanks in part to a donation of fabric by Larry Besler. (Photo by Michelle Mallette)

From left, Sunshine Guild president Angie Swift, member Rae Salkeld, and Vice-President Stephanie Alcock show off comfort quilts created by members over the winter, thanks in part to a donation of fabric by Larry Besler. (Photo by Michelle Mallette)

Quilters Create Comfort with Fabric, Thread

Grand Forks’ Sunshine Quilters Guild has long embraced the tradition of the giving of comfort quilts

Michelle Mallette

During times of distress or tragedy, a little comfort can mean a lot. That’s the idea behind the giving of comfort quilts, designed to offer warmth and comfort during a time of need.

Grand Forks’ Sunshine Quilters Guild has long embraced the tradition, offering the gift of a quilt to those impacted by illness or a disaster such as fire or flood. In 2018, dozens of quilts were donated to Grand Forks flood victims, including many that came from quilting guilds from elsewhere in B.C.

“If you’ve been burned out, or battered, or injured, it gives comfort and warmth. It’s dignity. Some people are left with nothing; to those who receive them, it’s security,” explains Brenda Sikich, the current Comfort Quilt Coordinator for the guild. When a body is moved from the hospital to the funeral home, she notes, the staff use one of two quilts donated by Sunshine Quilters as a cover during transportation. It provides privacy and dignity, but it’s also a statement of love.

Over the years, the Sunshine Quilters have donated dozens and dozens of quilts. “It’s in the hundreds,” says Guild vice-president Stephanie Alcock, noting that while early donations weren’t tracked, for the past 10 years or so each gift is logged in a binder. “Each quilt is labelled, and we have it numbered. When we give it away, we make note of the number, date, a description and where it’s gone,” Sikich explains.

Locals aren’t the only ones to benefit – last summer, Sunshine Quilters was one of several guilds that sent quilts to support those burned out in the Monte Creek fire.

“We gave 20 or 22,” recalls guild member Fran Etson. “I had personal contact with three women who were burned out,” she explains. She put the word out to the Guild, and along with about a dozen of the guild’s comfort quilts, several members made donations of their own quilts to top up the supply. “Some of them were just beautiful, all different sizes. There were baby ones, and big double bed ones too,” Etson says with admiration. She had intended to drive them up, but when her husband wasn’t feeling well enough to travel, fellow guild member Vella Boyce stepped up, offering to deliver them as she already had a trip planned to Prince George.

“Word got out [in Monte Creek] that the quilts were coming; they were so excited! There was a line-up when Vella arrived there,” Etson recalls with a laugh. “They were so thankful and thanked all who contributed.”

Donating that many quilts is an impressive feat for a relatively small guild. With about 30 active members before the pandemic, it takes organization to keep the comfort quilt supply topped up, and the Guild regularly organizes “quilting bees” in which members come together to sew the quilt tops as a group. It’s a social activity that builds community and teaches skills to new quilters. But because the pandemic restricted the opportunity for group quilting, Sikich came up with an idea that delivered more than 30 quilts over the past winter.

The guild had received a donation of fabric, batting and backing from the family of Donna Besler, a former guild member who had passed away. Rae Salkeld recalls getting a phone call from retired Pastor Henry and Judy Klassen, on behalf of Donna’s husband Larry. She spent several days sorting the fabric. “We took what fabric we thought we could use, but there was a lot of fabric,” Salkeld says with appreciation. “We sold the extra fabric and machines and raised $600, and donated that to Pines Bible Camp.” The Camp was chosen in consultation with the Klassens, and the donation was made in Larry Besler’s name.

Then Alcock and Sikich sorted the fabric to be used for comfort quilts. They added it to the boxes of donated fabric that are used for comfort quilt tops. “I said to Stephanie, let’s make this into bags. We spent a whole day, Steph and I, with logs of giggles, making up these bags.” They sorted the fabric into themes and colours and created bags of sufficient to make a quilt top. The bags were numbered, and last fall the bags were distributed by raffle to guild members who accepted a challenge to make a quilt top over the winter. The instructions were simple: made a quilt top using the fabric provided along with any of your own you want to contribute. The top had to be at least 50”x70”, but could be larger. Members were asked to complete only the tops, and the guild would finish the quilts with batting, backing, quilting and binding. “About half the quilts [came back] completely finished,” Sikich notes with gratitude, which eased the burden on the guild to complete the projects. As a result, another 30 quilts have been added to the Guild’s comfort quilt supply, ready to go out and bring solace and cheer where it’s needed. Some of the fabric in the guild’s stash was, to put it bluntly, “quite ugly,” Sikich says with a laugh, “but it turned it all into beautiful quilts!”

One of the first deliveries went to the pediatric ward at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail. Sikich had been at the hospital in December and spoke to a nurse in the ward. “I asked if we’d ever donated quilts to them, and she didn’t think so. They give them to the kids who come in with trauma, and I promised her back in December we would give her charity quilts from the guild. I took her seven,” she says with a note of pride in her voice. “I’d love to give out more,” she says generously. Members alert her when they hear of a need, and she reaches out to the fire department and RCMP when she learns of an emergency. Anyone knowing of a situation where a comfort quilt might be needed can let her know at brendasikich@gmail.com.

And for those who want to be part of this compassionate community effort, Sunshine Quilters welcomes new members. “If you want to support us, join us,” invites Alock. The guild meets Tuesdays at the Focus on Fibre Arts building, 8210b Donaldson Drive, from September to May. Over the summer many members still meet informally, and anyone interested in finding out more can stop by any Tuesday.

We are experiencing technical difficulties with our commenting platform and hope to be up and running again soon. In the meantime, you can still send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter, or submit a letter to the editor.