The Comfort Quilt Project

This project is made possible in part by a generous grant from the CAPITAL REGION ART$FUND and the National Quilting Association Comfort Quilt Brochure (Word Doc 1.8Mb)

 

How the Comfort Quilt Project Came to Be

In early January of 2004 I got a call from my long time friend, Norma. Her words still ring in my ears: “Ryan’s sick." The first words in what has become a long, tortuous chapter in their life. Ryan, her younger son, was sick indeed. At age 4 he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a cancer that strikes young children.

Long hospital stays and invasive tests became the norm. When I would visit him at Children’s Hospital in Boston, I was amazed at what a stoic trooper Ryan was through all the treatments. However, one thing was clear - he greatly missed his home and family. As a friend on the sidelines I felt so helpless. I knew I had to do something, anything. Ryan cuddling under his "One in a Million Prince" quilt

So I did what I do. I make quilts. And I set out to make a very special one for Ryan. Something to ease the loneliness, something that would show him how loved he is and how he remained connected to his family. To create this unique quilt I solicited photos from his family and friends which I then transferred to fabric and used his favorite cartoon and storybook characters to craft a quilted fairy tale – “The One in a Million Prince”.

While visiting Ryan in the hospital in Boston and later at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, I came to meet many other children afflicted with life threatening diseases. I realized that as they suffer long hospital stays they, too, could benefit from a bit of “comfort” – and the concept of the “Comfort Quilt Project” was born.

My Comfort Quilts include photographs printed on fabric, “character” material (such as the very popular Sponge Bob), and other themes that the recipient’s choose. The children are given a disposable camera and instructed to take pictures of what they miss most while in the hospital. I conduct interviews and ask questions to find out their favorite things and the kids are encouraged to offer some specific suggestions, thus their quilts become collaboration. Their names are embroidered on the front and the quilts are backed with flannel. The children are also given a matching pillow case and a photo album with the pictures they provided.

Designs sometimes include traditional patchwork but each is an original creation for each individual child. With every piece I strive to celebrate the uniqueness of the recipient. When someone is so sick, the disease tends to define them. I want the child to shine through, not the illness. And each quilt, like each child is very different.

Regina took pictures of her house, room and bed and the resulting quilt strongly conveys sense of place. Marina took pictures of her pets and asked me to include a peace sign, pentagram and fairies. Her quilt reflects a very unique 15 year old. Alyssa, mostly wheelchair bound, asked me to combine butterflies and basketball; now she can jump and fly in her dreams.

An added highlight of the project has been the personalized quilt presentations. Once I establish the children’s favorite things, it often includes their favorite foods. For April we celebrated the finding of a compatible donor and toasted with Mountain Dew while eating pizza. For Kyle, we dined on Chinese food and tootsie rolls with his favorite people at his favorite place – the Ronald McDonald House. For Heather we had a bedside presentation while she underwent chemotherapy.

Heather loved Faith Hill so I played that music non stop while working on the quilt and even included a picture of Hill on Heather’s black and silver “Starry Night” quilt. Sadly, Heather lost her struggle with cancer and her quilt now comforts her family.

Funding this endeavor has been both a struggle and labor of love. Thanks to a grant from the New York State Capital Region Arts Fund, I was able to create several quilts for children in the Upstate New York area. That grant culminated in a gallery show at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY. There was also an article in the Sunday Times Union featuring the project. Now, through a generous grant from the National Quilting Association I can create even more. Recipients are people I meet through my volunteer work at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the Albany Medical Center, when visiting Ryan at Sloan Kettering in New York City or those referred to me by hospital staff.

As the project unfolds, so too does the creative process. This venture has allowed me to grow as a quilter because each undertaking presents a new challenge. I know I can’t take the pain away and I can’t make everything right but the Comfort Quilt Project is my attempt to ease the journey just a bit. I feel very fortunate to be a part of these young lives lived with such grace and courage. The plight of the children I have met has opened my eyes, redirected my focus in life and taught me the importance of living in the present, in the now.

Ryan is now 11 years old and has spent over half his life battling the monster that is neuroblastoma. To follow Ryan's journey you can go to: For-Ryan.org. Please leave Ryan a note in his Guest Book.

Your Very Own Comfort Quilt:

Now it is your turn. I look forward to working with you on your totally customized quilt. Quilts will incorporate photographs transferred to fabric, familiar character material and will be backed with cozy, warm flannel. The child’s name will be embodied on the front of the quilt. You can provide pictures which will returned unharmed or use a disposable camera which will be provided. (Contact us to receive camera). Take multiple pictures of the same subject so we can use the best shots. Your quilt will contain at least 8 photos, more if space allows. Size will vary depending on the age of the recipient.

Read More Albany Times Union Comfort Quilt Project article

 

How to Participate in the Comfort Quilt Project: