For the last few months, a dedicated band of women in Lawrence have spent afternoons, evenings and weekends hunched over large tables, needle and thread in hand, stitching together dozens upon dozens of quilts.
Their goal was simple but ambitious. By the time the new Lawrence Community Shelter opens toward the end of this month, they hope to put a new, handmade quilt on each of the shelter's 125 beds.
"I don't know what was on my mind," said Bridget Law, one of the organizers of the project, as she and several other quilters worked recently "tying" one of the many quilts together.
That's one of the techniques quilters use to bind together the "sandwich" of a quilt — the flannel back sheet, the inner padding and the decorative top piece that typically includes a variety of fabric scraps carefully stitched together in a decorative pattern. It involves a short single or double band of thread stitched into the fabric and tied into knots at about six-inch intervals, something much faster and simpler than hand- or machine-stitching the entire quilt together in ornate patterns.
"The more people that work, you know, we could get this done in an hour and a half or so when we all work together on it, and it makes a big difference," she said. "Mother and I can sit and sew the tops together, and deliver them to (others) and have them get the rest together."
Law and her mother, Pat Law, of Meriden, started the project in September. Working with Diane Huggins of the shelter's Back to Work program, they learned the new facility at 3701 Franklin Circle will have 125 twin-sized beds. At the time, Law said, many shelter residents, including small children and pregnant women, had been sleeping on gym mats on a floor.
But the project quickly blossomed from there, bringing in churches, community organizations and a large number of others who donated time, talent and material for the project.
One day earlier this month, Law and others gathered at the home of Karen Warner, a member in the GQ chapter of P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization), a community group that supports educational and other civic activities.
As the women toiled at tying the quilt together and chatting about various topics (quilting really is a social activity), Warner explained how the project is really about creating "community" quilts, made for a truly "community" shelter.
"Bridget and her mother and her mother's sister are making all the quilt tops because they were gifted with a lot of fabric by a woman who closed a quilt store," she said. "We have been collecting the binding, which is actually mattress pads, and flannel sheets. Those, I have been collecting from the First Presbyterian Church. And also my yoga teacher made an announcement to all of her yoga classes. I mean, this has become a communitywide project. The Kaw Valley Quilters are also involved in all of this."
Warner said she thinks that's fitting, given how funding for the new community shelter came together in the first place.
"What's amazing is that they (the shelter) just didn't have the money to do it," Warner said. "And then their board of directors went around the community, home-to-home, asking for donations, and there was the money. So it truly is a community shelter."
Efforts to build the new facility also got a boost this year from the Douglas County Community Foundation, which kicked in a $100,000 grant, one of the largest grants that foundation has ever awarded.
Loring Henderson, director of the shelter, said the quilts will be a welcome addition to the shelter.
"It's not only warm and comforting, but it's a personal touch and it's beautiful," he said. "We're extremely pleased with it."
Henderson said construction on the new facility is scheduled for completion Dec. 21, with a tentative move-in date set for Dec. 29.