Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Building Quilts, Building Lives!

“Children learn more by what you ARE than what you TEACH.”
W.E.B. Du Bois

Yesterday was a day I’ve been waiting for the past year.

Of course, I have looked forward to spending this week with family, and following up our time together with all of the fun and quilty hubbub of the Minnesota Quilt Show.

But there is more – so much more to this trip.

Destination?  St. Paul and Piece by Piece.

In June of 2018 I received a letter from Carol in the mail.  The regular mail.  Hard copy.  Not email.  This let me know just how important this was going to be.  Hard copy letters just don’t happen that often any more.

Part of the letter.

Faces in photos have been obscured to protect the identity of young ladies still of minor age.

This letter has been held to the front of my fridge under a magnet for the past year and I have looked at these faces and read the words every time I opened or closed that fridge.  I was making this a destination.  I was not going to miss my chance.

in Carol’s words:

These are photos of inner city children in St. Paul, MN.  Most are in foster care.  They come twice a week to sew.  All of our machines are donated and all are old!

I thought you would enjoy these photos.  If you are ever in Minnesota, please come to meet us if you have the time. 

The program is called Piece by Piece or Institute of Learning in inner city St. Paul.  I (Carol) do most of the teaching and Granny supervises behavior. (photos of girls 18 years of age can be shown.)

Yesterday with Granny and Carol!

They have worked together at teaching these children for 15 years and going strong.

All of the machines are all metal – vintage or nearly vintage.

All of the machines have been donated, and the maintenance and care on the machines has ALSO been donated by someone happy to spend their spare time keeping the machines up and running for these girls.

I wanted to hop right in and sew on this beautiful 201!

They are making my Diamond Strings quilt from the Free Patterns tab!

I was told that Butterscotch is quite the prolific quilter! 

(Not her real name – names have been changed to protect their identity -  Carol let me know that all of these girls have come though some unimaginably  tough life experiences that no child should ever experience and are in a crisis/shelter. Quilting gives them some calm.)

Sew, Butterscotch Sew!

Oooh, Hello, beautiful 66!

I love that the girls had options -

Either to “free piece” their strings with no foundation -

Or use my favorite phone book page method!

And she is sewing on a beautiful 301!

Not only are these girls learning to quilt, but they are learning to love the beauty and function of a lovely vintage machine.  Can you feel my heart do a little happy dance?

Aunt Joy, Aunt Gail and my mama joining in!

Joy, being a new quilter, sat right down and started asking the girls questions.  I think this is a pattern that she also wants to make now that she’s seen it done!  And I think the kids got a kick out of being the TEACHER for once, instead of just the student.

A beautiful row of string piecing, ready to cut into triangles!

The hands say it all – these hands are capable of ANYTHING and EVERYTHING!

And they are quilting.

Granny’s current project -

These blocks were made by Granny’s daughter – a fabulous quilter.  They are left-overs from a quilt and she was just going to toss them out!  Granny snatched them from the trash and is going to use them to make bags.

The girls not only make quilts, but they have made many things that have been donated to different organizations throughout the community.  

They make mittens for the homeless out of recycled sweaters.  They make wheel chair bags and other items for those in need.  

These girls are learning to love the gift of giving as well as receiving.  It shows in their smiles, in their eyes and shines upon their countenances.  

It is a BEAUTIFUL world when we teach the children.

A bit about Granny – fascinating lady and I look forward to staying in contact!

She grew up in Mississippi along the Delta.  Her brother came up to Minnesota to go to school, and sent home pictures of the snow being taller than the cars, the sidewalks leaving a tunnel-like pathway between the street and the snow covered lawns.  She said she knew right then that she had to come up here.

She has never left! 

She learned to sew in high school, and then got a job in a clothing factory stitching at industrial machines – there has rarely been a day when she has NOT sat at a sewing machine.  

She was sitting at an industrial vintage singer – and showed us how fast and powerful it was, and all I thought was – Wow!  I could get that binding on extra fast!  And sew right through three fingers in the process!

Driving back to Maple Grove -

Not a bad shot of the city through the car window!

The cathedral I’ve driven past and remember vividly from my childhood.

I’ve never been inside yet.  Maybe next trip?

Brunch with the girls -

We are joined by cousin Marie who took great glee in telling me how she used to baby sit me and and changed my britches.  Thanks, Marie.  LOL!

It’s just been such a memorable trip.  Wonderful time with family.  Heartful of gladness for the time I was able to spend at Piece by Piece.

And today I head out to Rochester and start another week with the quilters.

Life is so very very good!

Quiltville Quote of the Day!

Vintage Dresden plate quilt with dots found in Kentucky.

Pushing those boundaries keeps boring at bay!

It would have been so easy to say that we were too busy to drive all the way to St. Paul yesterday.  But I am so glad I did.  I’ll never forget it.

Have a wonderful Tuesday, everyone!


  1. I had the opportunity to work with a math teacher who used quilting as a math lesson for an inner city classroom Most rewarding experience making bags and blocks for a special holiday. Now I am teaching some of my athletes who are math oriented to work on letters for a banner to carry at events. Heart warming reading of their commitment

  2. What an awesome program and an honor to visit!!
    God bless grannie and Carol and the kids learning to quilt and sew.
    Thanks for sharing your day.

  3. Thanks Bonnie, I have been sitting on some sewing machines, fresh maintenance on them, and supplies + fabric that I will no longer use. St. Paul is my hometown and I know exactly where they are going. I will contact them first and make sure they want them. Hoping I can be the blessing.

    1. If they would like supplies & fabric could you or Bonnie post a mailing address, please.

    2. I am going to the St. Paul area in August, and I would be honored to drop off some goodies for these lovely ladies. Thanks.

    3. I just talked to Granny and she gave me the okay to post the address to send things. They have operated for over 30 years on donations and never charge a penny for teaching classes or the fabrics/supplies used. I was crying by time I got done talking with her. LOL The address is Piece by Piece, 175 Victoria St N St. Paul, MN 55104. They can use cotton fabric, rulers, rotary cutters, scissors, thread, batting and just about anything that you can use for quilting. I will be taking 4 machines(in perfect working order) up next week.

    4. OOOPs, I just found Bonnie's reply below. You may want to hold off and see what she comes up with. Sorry, just so excited.

    5. Thank You so much for this info, Deb. Do you know if the address is N. ST. Paul, or does the street end w/ N.?

      Originally from MN.

  4. so glad you could visit them they will remember it forever.

  5. Speechless, in awe, Bonnie your talent and energy enriches so many lives...and brings out the best in all of us.....I am sure that I am not the only one thinking about sending supplies to piece by piece or a similar project in our own communities

  6. What a beautiful view of old sewing machines being loved and used! Congratulations to Granny and Carol and their group!
    (I think the letter on your fridge should have the date of 2018, not 2019)

  7. Thanks for the article featuring Piece by Piece. It was wonderful for you to recognize this out standing program and the people that are involved. The positive difference being made by simple acts and actions often goes unnoticed in the fast paced world we live in. Sewing and creating are such confidence builders and passing this love of doing something with your hands is so priceless.

  8. This would be a great place to donate fabric. Or other sewing stuff to. Do they have an address to donate seeing related items to?

    1. I am waiting before making the address known as I am afraid we would overwhelm them and the building isn't occupied every day and mail would sit outside - I am thinking of putting out a call once a month for one specific needed item that we could send the group - such as July is for Seam Rippers or some such thing - I don't know if they need everyone's old yard sale unwanted fabric and they deserve to sew with the best we can send them.

    2. What a lovely idea, Bonnie. If this becomes a thing, where donations are wanted for specific supplies, something like signupgenius.com might be handy. Might help them get what they need without overwhelming them, as you said, and would let your lovely readers know when the needs had been met.

      Beautiful post on a beautiful project. Kids who find themselves 'in the system' often have few personal items to call their own. Having a comforting item made with their own hands must be very empowering.

  9. Thank you mom and Granny for all you do. Thank you for listening to the Holy Spirit's prompting. Great blog Bonnie - my mom is thrilled and grateful for your visit.

  10. What a great thing for them to do for those kids! I hope they don’t forget the boys! Boys also love sewing and sewing is so therapeutic. Got me thru life’s hardest moments

  11. I think this is my all time favorite post of yours...and that says A LOT!! From the connections across the miles and across a scrap bin, the connections across perceived barriers such as generation, race or background,and experiences. The power of creating to create new hope in broken hearts...now I must go get my tissue. love to you and all who share your passion and mission.

  12. As a resident of Mississippi and the daughter of a retired home economics teacher, this touches my heart in so many ways. What a wonderful gift is being given to these young ladies!

    Perhaps an address to send checks so they can choose their own new fabric?!!

  13. OMG!!!I can not believe the timing. At church they had a program on foster care. 60 families and 400 children to place. At my age, I can't do it - BUT, then the Director of CASA gave a small talk - encouraging fundraisers as no one gets paid. I couldn't get my mind off this program. I have some ideas and now once again another great avenue to explore. Wondering if there are any guidelines for one to follow to get started?

  14. Oh Bonnie, count me in on donating to that very special group of ladies. I can certainly see how overwhelmeing you felt with this visit!

  15. Those women who are teaching the girls to sew are changing the world a few girls at a time as well as the girls themselves. Your story and pictures brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing. Nancy A: rangerer@sbcglobal.net

  16. This is a very touching post. Some ladies in the local guild have been sewing one day a week with the adult center for challenged people. It has really gone very well. They are all very excited about the lap quilts they made & want to know what they can make next.

  17. Amazing post. Made me cry, in a precious way. Inspires me to look and see if there are any similar programs in my own neck of the woods. I love the heart of your family Bonnie. Truly a blessing that you share so much.

  18. This post makes you believe that there is good in this ole world and that good people exist in it. To Granny and Carol and all who work in the Piece by Piece program - I applaud you, your staff, your students and timeless effort you give. You will be blessed in return. And thank you Bonnie for sharing them with your readers. I always enjoy your posts, but this one ranks as my favorite thus far.

  19. I enjoyed this blog so much. My daughter was a Girl Scout Coordinator. One of her events was a "Cut it - Stitch it - Sew it.. she wanted me to bring my sewing machine and help her teach these young girls 6-9 how to quilt. I was a seamstress, I didn't know a thing about quilting, but we learned from each other. Game changer for me. If kids could teach me... amazing the way we can touch people through quilting. Thank you for everything you do, especially sharing this experience.

  20. What an inspirational blog today Carol and mom are doing a fantastic job helping these young ladies to feel great about what they can accomplish, thank you so much for sharing. Would a go fund me page help, as I am so far away it would be difficult for me to send items but would love to make a donation and I know go fund me is a safe way to send funds.
    Thank you for sharing this with us all.
    Love and quilty hugs
    Anne xxx

  21. A wonderful post and a terrific cause. I love how the children are giving to others too. Just awesome.

  22. What a beautiful and exciting story about the power of creativity, expressed in sewing and piecing. I would love to contribute and look forward to more information from you as to how we can and should do that.

  23. Great story on a great program. Yeah, we could overwhelm them really quickly with gifts. Also, there are likely other programs that could use donations - if only people knew.

  24. If only a few people started sewing centers in their own areas, this could expand to touch so many people. Thanks for the idea. Lets see what we can make of it.

  25. I live in Georgia, If there is a program like that around here, I could take some old sweaters that we moved with us here from the colder northern Nevada that we cannot use. Or if this group can use them, I'd be glad to ship them up there, if that's doable.

  26. I loved reading about y your trip to Minnesota. What a wonderful experience for the young women. Quilting is such a personal thing to do and is so fun to share with others. I loved Grannie's log cabin quilt. It makes me want to go in my sewing room and start cutting 1 1/2" strips and pedal to the metal sewing a scrappy log cabin for myself. I have made planned log cabins but never a scrap log cabin. It's about time I got started. Hmmm Right now would be a great time. Thanks for all your beautiful blogs.

  27. I do not generally comment on anyone's blog posts, but I am moved to write and thank you for your visit to this marvelous project and your commitment to spreading the joy of quilting to everyone. Please keep up the good work!

  28. This touches my heart, thank you, I will be waiting for your "call" for sending sewing and quilting supplies to these awesome ladies!!! Count me in!!!

  29. This story absolutely made my day!

  30. This should be one of several at the top of your list for wonderful posts! Thanks so much for sharing how wonderful quilting is making life for these young ladies!

  31. Such a wonderful post, Bonnie!
    What a Blessing for Granny and Carol to spend such time in teaching and caring for these young ladies.

    I know there are many other organizations across the country and world doing the same, but most likely not with the commitment of these ladies. Such a great cause to donate to also. When you get things sorted out what to send when, please do let us know in a post.

    God Bless you in all the wonderful Good you do in the world!

    Kasilof, AK

  32. This makes my heart happy.

  33. Bonnie, this was such a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing with us.


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