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Quilters Making a Difference

In the Fall issue of The Professional Quilter, Eileen Doughty took a look at four well-known quilters who used their position in the quilt world to create a fund-raising project near to their hearts. Here’s an excerpt from the article.

Virginia Spiegel was inspired to take action because her father is a colon cancer survivor and her sister is chair of the Forest Lake, Minn., Relay For Life. Susan Shie was drawn to act after learning of the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Kathleen Thompson’s son, Josh Thompson, was diagnosed with the always-fatal disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) at the age of 32, two weeks before the birth of his first baby. Ami Simms and her family cared for her mother for more than four years, as she succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Ami sums it up well, “I realized right off that my degree in anthropology probably wasn’t going to help cure Alzheimer’s, but I do know how to quilt, and I have a voice in the quilting community. I took advantage of those two things.”

Virginia Spiegel proved that all forms of fiber art have the power to raise serious funds. She founded Fiberart For A Cause (FFAC) to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, while simultaneously promoting the fiber arts. FFAC offered several ways to participate: by making art (often quite small), buying art, donating skills (such as graphic design) and spreading the word about the project.

Susan Shie felt compelled to act by auctioning artwork after learning of the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. First, she and other artists auctioned their paintings at their local arts center. Later, she used posted two paintings on Facebook, and after finding that successful created a quilt about the earthquake that she posted on her Facebook page

Kathy Thompson, assisted by the staff at Quilters Dream Batting, started the Hopes & Dreams Quilt Challenge for ALS to help raise awareness, provide the gift of a quilt to ALS patients and raise research money by displaying, auctioning or raffling donated quilts.

The Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) began as an individual effort by Ami Simms in January 2006. Within two years it became a national charity that raises awareness and funds for research through two concurrent art projects. One is a nationally touring quilt exhibit about Alzheimer’s. “Alzheimer’s: Forgetting Piece by Piece” has been seen by more than 223,000 people at 49 venues in 31 states since 2006. It will be retiring in October 2010 and replaced by “Alzheimer’s Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope,” which will begin touring in January 2011. The second project is “Priority: Alzheimer’s Quilts,” in which small quilts are auctioned or sold. More than 5,300 quilts have been donated to date. Ami says, “When I first pitched the idea, I thought we’d raise $25,000 over three years. Then I thought it would be $50,000. Then it felt like $75,000 was doable. I was wrong on all counts. As of this moment we have raised more than $410,000 for research.”

All the women faced the challenge of starting up with limited funds, getting the word out and managing the ongoing fundraiser – all while still managing their own businesses and lives. And all have been emotionally overwhelmed by the response to these projects. Although they asked the quilting community to individually contribute a small donation of funds, quilts, and/or time, the cumulative response brought significant results.

Ami says, “What we didn’t realize was the tremendous impact that making a quilt can have on family members caring for people with Alzheimer’s and those grieving the loss of a loved one who had this disease. We are a grassroots organization, driven by the Internet and fueled by the passion of quilters. When faced with overwhelming sadness and loss, it feels like there is nothing one person can do. But one person can make a little quilt, and a quilt can help. It can be cathartic to create and a blessing to give that creation. And let’s not forget the person who purchases the quilt to complete the circle.”

Think one person can’t make a difference? Think again.

You can read more of EIleen’s article in the Fall issue of The Professional Quilter. This issue is available to members of the International Association of Professional Quilters.

To learn more about the projects:

– Fiberart For A Cause:

– Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative:  http:// (website) (facebook)

– “Alzheimer’s Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope”:

– Hopes & Dreams Quilt Challenge for ALS:

The International Association of Professional Quilters offers resources and networking opportunities for you to create a success from your quilting business. Learn about all the benefits of IAPQ membership and join here.

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