Most quilters are lucky: we’ve got our basic needs met and can spend time (and a little money) on a hobby that brings us pleasure. Quilters don’t hesitate to use that hobby to bring comfort to others. Making something to give to someone else is at the heart of so many sewing projects.
One organization that benefits from the skills of quilters and helps girls and women meet their basic needs is Days for Girls. The organization was founded in 2008 by environmental educator Celeste Mergens. Back in the U.S. after working at an orphanage in Kenya, she realized she’d never asked what products the girls used when they had their periods and was stunned to hear the answer: “Nothing. They wait in their rooms.” She soon realized that girls around the world were missing up to a week of school each month and eventually dropping out, and that women were not able to feed their families because they were missing work, all because of a lack of feminine hygiene products. “Having a basic biological function becomes a devastating handicap,” says Celeste.
Celeste Mergens with girls in Kenya
Celeste was scheduled to return to the orphanage and she and a group of volunteers started stitching. “Some sewed until their fingertips bled,” says Celeste, but in three weeks they’d stitched reusable pads for all 500 girls. Using input from the girls, Days for Girls (DFG) has honed their designs: each girl now receives a kit containing a colorful cloth drawstring bag that contains a pair of panties, two moisture barrier shields, eight tri-fold pads, two zippered plastic bags, a washcloth, soap, and an instruction sheet. The kits are distributed through organizations like the Peace Corps, Rotary, and educational and church groups. They’ve been distributed on six continents, in more than 60 countries, including in the United States (the New Orleans school district contacted DFG for kits last year).
Some of the kit components: Drawstring bags, shields, and tri-fold pads
Sewing events organized by DFG chapters and teams are held around the country, and the world. (Individuals also contribute their efforts to the organization.) We’ve held two DFG sew-ins in my area, a one-day event at Home Ec Workshop and three-day event, held at both Home Ec and Inspirations in Hills, Iowa, for which Moda donated some lovely fabrics. Top quality quilting cottons and flannels are important for DFG items: they hold up to repeated washings (kits will last up to three years). Patterns are useful for hiding stains, and Celeste notes that often these kits are the only thing a girl owns and that like girls everywhere, they appreciate bright, pretty fabrics. It’s easy to imagine the smiles these beautiful Miss Kate, Best. Day. Ever, and Fancy fabrics will bring to girls’ faces.
Days for Girls sew-in at Home Ec Workshop, Iowa City
It isn’t just the girls who benefit from these events. Participants who came to sew pads, attach snaps, and cut out the waterproof PUL fabric are of all ages and backgrounds. There’s lots of conversation, laughter, and camaraderie—people come with old friends and make new ones. This project is one that appeals especially to younger women, who identify with the kit’s recipients and the impact that having nothing to use during their periods would have. The classroom at Home Ec Workshop is small and at one point we had 20-plus people elbow-to-elbow, sewing, serging, applying snaps, cutting, talking, and laughing. People came for an hour or stayed all afternoon—some were shop regulars, while others were first-time visitors: nearly 50 volunteers came on one or more days.
At the end of our three-day sew-in, participants had created 134 bags, 886 liners, and 433 shields. The satisfaction they felt was clear: people asked to be notified of other sew-ins and many said they’d love to get together monthly.
Some of the completed kit components
And the need, of course, is ongoing. As DFG founder Celeste Mergens notes, whenever a family has to choose between buying food or buying feminine hygiene products, food always wins. Celeste admits that she never imagined she’d spend her days talking to people about menstruation. But she also never imagined that something so simple could provide dignity and help break the cycle of poverty for girls and women worldwide. “We all deserve to have what we need for our basic biological functions, and if we don’t it affects how we feel about ourselves,” she says. “These pieces of fabric literally transform lives and help women and girls say ‘I have value.’”
Days for Girls sew-in at Inspirations in Hills, Iowa
For more information about Days for Girls and having a sew-in, visit their website www.daysforgirls.org
Girls in Kenya receiving their Days for Girls kits
Moda is pleased to welcome designer Kate Nelligan, whose first line of fabric, Beach House, will debut at Quilt Market in October.
An accomplished artist and designer, Kate’s crisp color palette and graphic imagery evoke her coastal hometown of Kennebunkport, Maine. Kate’s family shares her love of the sea: her son is a surfer and her husband works in the marine industry. “When we met, he was a fisherman,” says Kate. “And when I fell in love with him, I fell in love with fish!”
Kate’s inspiration comes not only from her close connections with the ocean, but from her family of origin. “I grew up in a rich, creative environment where we were making things all the time,” says Kate. “You know how some families always play sports? In my family we were always painting, drawing, writing, and sewing.” Another influence on Kate’s visual style was the beach hotel her parents managed. Each evening she and her siblings would dress up and eat in the large dining room with the “fancy” guests. Kate remembers walking through a sea of summer dresses and being particularly drawn to those stitched from Marimekko fabrics, with their organic shapes and bold color schemes. “I’ve been wondering lately if that’s been rolling around in my brain and is where my love of bold pattern comes from,” she says.
Kate’s bright, graphic designs starts with a hands-on approach. She sketches an image, say of mussel shells, then traces it with pencil and rubs it onto a rubber block where it leaves an impression that she then carves out. Other designs come from tearing and layering bits of colored paper. She loves the serendipity of these design methods. “It never looks like you think it will—it turns into its own thing, and then you go with it,” she says. “I like drippy paint because I can’t control it and it sets up a back-and-forth between the medium and me: ‘Oh, you’re going to do that? Okay, then I’ll do this.’ Everyone talks about being mindful, and there’s nothing more mindful, more in-the-minute, than creating art.” Once Kate is satisfied with her imagery, she converts it to digital files.
Before designing fabric, Kate worked with companies on home décor items including ceramics, wall art, sculptures, and stationary, but longed to focus on her own designs. She created fabric through Spoonflower (like those in this post) and eventually opened a small store in her hometown, selling pillows, table runners, and other items stitched by local women. Running a small business left her strapped for time to make art, however. She closed her shop and made the leap to partnering with companies interested in reproducing her artwork: rugs and pillows with her designs will be available through Peking Handicraft beginning in January. And of course, her fabric for Moda is coming soon, too.
Kate is thrilled to be working with Moda. “It’s the best fabric company I know,” she says. While she sews, Kate isn’t a quilter (yet) and was blown away when she went to Market in Pittsburgh in May, to learn more about the industry. “I’d walk around and there were all these companies and then there was Moda. They’re so brilliant with their booth and their marketing, and everyone has been so sincere and genuine. I feel pretty lucky to work with them!”
And we’re lucky, too. Though summer’s coming to an end, knowing that bright beachy scenes will be at available for stitching in just a few months relieves some of winter’s sting. Soon we’ll be able to bring Kate’s colorful, graphic sense of style to our own homes, when Beach House will ship to stores next spring.
“I think I’m a teacher at heart,” says one of Moda’s newest designers, Amy Ellis. “I really like to encourage people.”
Amy supplied that encouragement through her first two books Modern Basics, and Modern Basics II, which offered new quilters the chance to stretch their wings with patterns that presented a challenge, but would still get finished. “When I was working on that book I had three kids at home with me all day and quilting was necessary for my sanity,” she says. “Finishing something gave me a real sense of accomplishment and I wanted others to have that feeling, too.”
Amy’s new patterns, made with her Modern Neutral fabric
Though Amy admits to having a houseful of color, when it came time to write her next book her husband suggested she think about quilters who prefer to decorate with a more neutral touch. The result is the book Modern Neutrals: A Fresh Look at Neutral Quilt Patterns. Her fabric line of the same name debuted at Quilt Market last month and will ship to stores in October. “It’s been so fun to see how much interest you can add with minimal color, by varying the tones and layering texture in the designs,” she says. She was thrilled to share her fabric and designs at Market, and appreciated the kindness of the more seasoned designers. “They took the new designers under their wings and were so friendly and welcoming. I feel honored and blessed to be working with Moda.”
Amy dishes up more encouragement to quilters through her Blogger’s Quilt Festival, a site she’s set first up five-and-a-half years ago. This online “exhibition” gives quilters of every age and ability the chance to share their quilts and win cool prizes, too. “I time it to coincide with Quilt Market, because I think that’s when people are really looking for eye candy,” she says. “Despite it being a busy time it’s so much fun, and a number of new quilters and bloggers have come out of it.” (Entries are closed, but you can view the entries and get lots of quilting inspiration here.)
In addition to wrapping up her fourth book, due out in December, and taking care of her four children, Amy’s been designing quilts for magazines (look for her patterns with her Modern Neutrals fabric in upcoming issues of Quilty, Love of Quilting, and others); writing her Amy at Home column for Quilty; co-hosting the podcast, QuiltCast, with April Rosenthal; taking on the occasional teaching gig; and serving as a spokesperson for Baby Lock sewing machines. Phew! As busy as she is, Amy needs no encouragement to keep sewing. “Quilting is my creative therapy, and everyone needs that in their life,” she says.
Vanessa Goertzen’s new fabric line, Into the Woods, has its roots in a cozy childhood spent with “an extremely talented mom.” Bedtime frequently featured a classic story set against a backdrop of the forest—Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel—and one of Vanessa’s favorite childhood memories is of snuggling under a quilt while her mom read to her.