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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Special Interest Groups: Blanket Makers provide love and warmth through makings

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Snow fell thick and fast last Thursday, but a group of dedicated women didn’t let the weather deter them.

Sewing machines whirred, irons sizzled and scissors snipped.

Since 2008, the Blanket Makers have been meeting twice a month at Valley Bible Church.

“It started with six ladies when we went to the (Washington State Quilters) Quilt Show,” Pat Doellefeld said. “I said if we all got together at church, we could learn from each other.”

Billie Hersh liked the idea but added a caveat.

“If we’re going to quilt at church, we need to have a mission.”

Thus, Blanket Makers launched with the intention to reach out to its community and church body by providing warmth and love through blankets made from fabric, fleece or yarn. Hersh said the group has 45 members but averages about 20 per meeting.

Last year, the group furnished approximately 200 blankets to organizations including Horizon Hospice, Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, the CASA My Bag program and Washington State Patrol chaplains.

Hersh pointed to a selection of completed projects slated for Horizon Hospice. The facility welcomes neck pillows, clothing protectors and palm grippers, in addition to blankets. She picked up a palm gripper.

“Sometimes hospice patients’ hands atrophy, causing their nails to dig into their skin,” she said. “These would cost them $35 to purchase, but we can make them with just a 6-inch piece of fabric and some elastic and stuffing.”

Nearby, a stack of blankets sewn with brightly colored fabrics is ready to be delivered to CASA and the children’s hospital. Both organizations serve children from infants through teens, so Blanket Makers sew them in a variety of sizes and fabric.

Karen Ulmer takes the donations to CASA.

“They’re so appreciative,” she said.

She brings her 1938 Singer Featherweight sewing machine to the meetings – no high-tech computerized machine needed.

“You can do all the maintenance on this yourself,” Ulmer said.

Attendees work on their own projects or tackle the challenge quilt Hersh gives them each quarter.

“Most personal projects end up as donations,” she said.

Church membership isn’t a requirement. All you need to attend is an affinity for needle and thread.

“I waited till I retired to join,” Ulmer said. “The friendships are the best part. We learn from each other.”

Shirley Roberts agreed.

“I didn’t call myself a quilter until I took a class on making a Lewis and Clark quilt, and then I was raring to go.”

Each spring, they host a “Quilt till You Wilt” retreat.

“It’s two days of nonstop fun,” Hersh said.

In the summer, Blanket Makers offers a sewing camp for kids 9-16.

“We have one volunteer for two children,” she said. “We have several projects they can choose from.”

At last summer’s camp, kids made stuffed bears, drawstring backpacks or messenger bags.

In addition, Valley Bible Church adopted University Elementary School. At the start of the school year, Blanket Makers gives each teacher an encouragement gift, and every fifth-grader gets a pillowcase at the end of the year.

“Last year, we made the teachers mug rugs with inspirational sayings on them,” Hersh said.

Last week, quilters moved about the room as they worked, pausing to chat or admire a work in progress. Some lingered at a long table filled with bins and bolts of donated fabric.

“We get a lot more done at home,” Doellefeld said.

Roberts nodded.

“But this is more fun,” she said.

Members find the Blanket Makers’ mission meaningful. A scrapbook filled with thank-you notes from recipients gets monthly updates.

“We got a card from someone whose husband was in hospice. She thanked us for the quilt and said the blue just matched his eyes,” Hersh said.

“The real satisfaction is knowing a quilt isn’t going to collect dust in a cupboard – it’s going to someone who will use it.”