Soft touch: Group at church reaches out in compassion through quilts, other handmade items

0
919

Jane Grant talks with a friend while working on a fleece blanket.

FOUNTAINTOWN — One woman keeps the quilt draped over a rocking chair, a soothing reminder of her late husband.

Another man’s quilt, one that he kept near during his final years as he lived in a facility, was buried with him.

Other quilts are folded and sent to summer church camp with children who might not have much bedding to pack.

Women who hand-tie the quilts, and keep sewing machines humming as they finish them off with edging around the perimeter, join hands in a circle and pray at the close of their work. They pray the flannel quilts, fleece blankets, Christmas stockings, burp cloths and other items they’ve made will meet a need and be an expression of love for those who receive them.

A group of women began meeting more than 20 years ago at Fountaintown Christian Church, bringing cloth from their own stashes, frequenting fabric store sales and pooling their know-how to make blankets. Sometimes they’d collaborate on a quilt for the church’s annual tenderloin dinner, auctioning it off and using the money to buy more supplies.

“When we first started out … we said, ‘OK, now, who are we going to give to? Are we just going to give these to church?’” recalls Mary Ann Suddarth, one of the originators of the group. “And we finally decided, ‘Whoever or whatever has a need.’ And it has just ballooned.”

That desire to offer comfort to those who need it inspired the name an early member, Louise Johnson, gave the group: Comfort Makers.

These days, the church — now known as The Fountain — allots funds annually to the group for fabric, seeing Comfort Makers as an outreach that has touched many over the years. And the group has gone from jamming fabric into a cabinet next to Christmas decorations to having a large closet where it can line up bolts of flannel and spools of thread.

Becky Fugate, who records items made in a notebook, said the group has given away more than 3,600 items over the years. They’ve been given away one by one — someone knew a person who was sick, or had a new baby, or some other need. Yet they’ve also been given away in batches, such as 102 fleece blankets with tied fringe edges given to children in an after-school program.

“Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people have been blessed,” said Marianne Smalley, another founder of the group.

Thank you notes have poured in, occasionally with a donation to help the group buy cloth for the next blanket.

“They just don’t stop thanking you,” Smalley said. Her lap is covered by fleeces with colorful rainbow spirals that look like tie dye; she’s tying tassels on a fleece blanket.

Across from her, Jane Grant does the same for an aqua blanket with dark-blue scalloped circles and butterflies. After she moved to New Palestine a few years ago and started attending The Fountain, some of the Comfort Makers women invited her to one of the group’s work sessions to see if she liked it.

“It’s a blessing, I’m telling you it is,” she said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful organization of sweet, kind women that work hard.”

There have been moments along the way when the women have felt their work enjoyed a blessing beyond their own labor. There was the guy at the sewing machine store who found and tuned up a brand-name sewing machine and an embroidery machine for the group at a price that fit what they had left to spend — but, being experienced sewers who know how much machines cost, they knew he had given them a great deal.

There was also the time they took about a dozen quilts to a nursing home, and each resident commented how theirs matched their room, their bedding, etc. Yet the Comfort Makers didn’t know the residents’ color schemes.

Even as they make items to share with others, the women say they reap benefit as well from the friendships that have developed with each other.

“I like to sew, and the fellowship is good,” Doris Bright said.

“We all laugh and joke and carry on,” said Pat Duda.

They’ve made things together, as they’ve gone to the fabric store in matching fluffy-chick-adorned “Christian Chicks” T-shirts, and as they’ve gathered for a Christmas lunch at a local restaurant.

“We really love what we do,” Suddarth said. “We have a really good time with each other.”

Smalley feels that too. “The group has grown close.”

WEAVE OF THEIR WORK

The Comfort Makers use flannel and fleece. They make tied quilts using 2-yard pieces of flannel; two pieces are quilted together, wrong sides touching, and a edging is sewn around the perimeter. Usually there is one print piece and one coordinating solid-color piece. A baby quilt often consists of two 1-yard pieces similarly tied and sewn.

The group also makes fleece blankets using pieces of at least 1½ yards.