By Kathy A. Megyeri
On National Quilting Day (March 18), we pay homage to Project Linus, a nonprofit organization that has donated over nine million new handmade blankets to children in need, all lovingly made by volunteers. The new afghans and blankets provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or in need.
In 1955, an article by Pulitzer-prize winning photojournalist Eddie Adams entitled “Joy to the World” appeared in the Christmas issue of Parade magazine. Karen Loucks read the article and sent new handmade security blankets to Denver’s Rocky Mountain Children’s Cancer Center. One special “blankie” helped a three-year-old get through two years of intensive chemotherapy; her “blankie” accompanied her through treatment. Project Linus was born.
Now, with over 300 chapters in all 50 states and 80,000 quilt-making volunteers, it is governed by a board of directors and headquartered in Belton, Missouri. Blankets are collected locally and distributed to children in hospitals, shelters, social service agencies or anywhere that a child might need a big “hug.”
Award of Honor: The Quilt of Valor
9 million quilts later…
This past holiday’s theme, “Snowball Express Blankets for 2022,” provided blankets to support children of fallen military heroes. Based in Orlando, it gathered 1,300 blankets of all new materials – quilts, fleece, knitted or crocheted – with the Project Linus label attached. The greatest request was for service specific blankets (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines) and the next favorites were Star Wars, superheroes, minions, Disney and camouflage blankets (including pink camo).
Quilting for life
Maryland resident Mary Jane Shannon, 66, is an avid volunteer for Project Linus. Forty years ago, she taught herself to quilt using cardboard templates and tracing sewing and cutting lines copied from a library book. She made a pillow and a few baby quilts. Twenty years ago, she discovered Project Linus’ local chapter and that became her passion so much so that she tackled more complex designs and does free motion quilting, using only books to guide her. Her first couple of quilts were hand sewn but she switched to machine quilting and even owns a long-arm machine. Shannon admits that she enjoys pushing her limits to see what she can create and has learned patience and confidence to accomplish the most difficult patterns. Shannon also writes a note with each donation explaining what inspired her to create a particular design and color selection. “I want the receivers to know how I value them as friends,” she says. “I want the quilts to be used and am thrilled when people send me pictures of themselves all wrapped up.”
Experimenting with design and color
The nature of quilting allows vast experimentation with design, color and materials. Shannon made one for a teenaged boy with donated fabric that looked like it came from his grandfather’s tie collection. By pairing it with blues, burgundy and black, a modern looking quilt emerged.
A retired oncology nurse, Shannon makes a few each year for her cancer patients going through chemotherapy. One, featuring pink cats, was in demand even by male patients. Her best work was the Fire Island Hosta pattern which took her eight months to finish.
Both solitude and social
Shannon will talk quilts with anyone who’s interested and wants to learn but for her, quilting provides both solitude and a social life. The “me” time she has in her sewing room is calming, but Shannon also feels close to other quilters who donate their work to Project Linus. “There’s a connection, a special love and an obsession that fellow quilters know,” she says. “That’s why we have fabric collections and buy still more fabric when we shop. My biggest satisfaction comes from the recipient – when they are speechless, or cry and give me a big hug.”
Although Shannon has never competed – “that’s too much about perfection and not enough about the quilt” – fellow quilter Bonnie Kelly says, “Mary Jane embodies the love of quilting with her generosity to others in need. Her quilts are so well done in design, color, and materials that she certainly could win competitively, but she chooses to share with Project Linus instead.”