MINERAL SPRINGS – For members of the quilting group Sew Blessed, a handmade quilt is more than just a blanket. It’s a reminder of home; a memory of a loved one; a baby’s first sleeps; and for the right person, an opportunity to heal.
“It’s comfort,” said Gayla Adams. “It makes you feel like somebody cares.”
Adams is one of the members of Sew Blessed, along with Sandee Henricks, Hilma Schakel and Nancy Meyer. Others include Marcia Searles, Ann Wlodkowski, Nancy Steinhous, Lynn Robinson, Kathleen Horton, Beth Vandenabeele and Frances Helms, who recently retired.
Sew Blessed started roughly 25 years ago as a small group of hand-quilters from Mineral Springs United Methodist Church. They mostly quilted out of each other’s homes until space was eventually made for a permanent home on the Mineral Springs UMC campus. They later moved into the church’s renovated office building, where they do the majority of their work today.
Henricks joined the group not knowing how to quilt. Over time, her skills improved and she felt good about herself for learning a new craft, but all that’s changed since. Now, quilting makes her feel good for a deeper reason.
“As we’re doing it, it feels like you’re paying it forward,” she said. “You’re giving a little bit of yourself with each quilt you make and you’re paying respect to all the women before who made quilts for others – our mother and grandmothers.”
Aside from that, Henricks said she loves Sew Blessed because, at its roots, the group is a fellowship of women making in impact and supporting one another through friendship. Anyone is welcome to join, whether or not they are members of UMC.
“We can talk about all of our problems. We can talk about that husband that’s driving us crazy,” Henricks said, laughing. “It’s very cheap therapy.”
Sew Blessed has a long history of making quilted items for people in the community, whether commissioned or for fundraising purposes. In 2017, they made 73 aprons and raised over $2,000 for the church choir through an effort called “Aprons to Anthems.”
They also make quilts for graduating high school seniors, new parents and people in the community who are sick, grieving or struggling in some way. The ladies of Sew Blessed remember all of the quilts they’ve worked on and the stories behind the people who received them.
One of those stories is of Ray Roberts.
Roberts had been overcome with grief after his wife of 59 years, Sarah, passed away last year. They met as kids growing up in Virginia – Sarah was 14 and he was 15 years old when they started dating – and together they raised three children.
“Everybody liked Sarah,” Roberts said. “If you knew her, you just liked her. She had that kind of personality.”
Sarah lost her six-year-long battle with ovarian cancer on June 25, 2018, and Roberts said he’s been “an emotional wreck” ever since. If anyone needed a blessing, it was him.
A few months after Sarah’s death, Roberts, who belongs to Weddington UMC and is in Meyer’s Sunday school class, reached out to Sew Blessed to make a lap quilt for his three children. He gave the group a box of Sarah’s shirts to work with, but the task was easier said than done.
Schakel said Sarah’s shirts were mostly cotton knit, which has more stretch than traditional cotton and is tougher to quilt. Still, the ladies of Sew Blessed aren’t the type to shy away from a challenge, and so “The Sarah Quilts” began.
“We called them ‘The Sarah Quilts’ throughout the whole process because it was a long process,” Henricks said.
The group started on the quilts in January of this year and finished in April. By the time they were done, some of the women said they felt attached to Sarah, although they had never met her, and that made giving the quilts to Roberts even more special.
“It’s like a connection,” Meyer said. “As you’re working, you see the colors of the clothes she wore and you start to feel like you know her, or you knew her.”
“Quilts tell stories, they just do,” Adams added. “They tell the stories of the people that made them; they tell the stories of the people that receive them; and they tell the stories of the people that come behind. Ray’s grandchildren will have those quilts one day.”
In addition to the three lap quilts Roberts requested, Sew Blessed also made a fourth quilt just for him. When he saw the finished product, he broke down in tears.
“What they did absolutely blew me away,” Roberts said. “This was a lot of work. This was not an easy project.”
Roberts thinks his wife would have loved the quilts. She was crafty and a perfectionist and would have appreciated how well they were made. For him, they’re a reminder of better days.
He said Sarah suffered during the last six years of her life as she fought hard to beat the cancer. They spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals and he became her primary caretaker.
“I can look at each patch on this quilt and remember something about my wife,” he said. “This allows me to get a memory back that was pleasant. It’s allowing us to heal. So for me, this is a healing blanket.”
Roberts said he’s still grieving, but the quilts Sew Blessed made for his family give him comfort.
“It keeps her memory alive,” he said. “My wife was a good woman, a wonderful mother and a wonderful wife.”