Last summer I had the children at our church make testimony quilts to give to the children who use the homeless shelters in our town. Homeless shelters often require the people who stay there to vacate the premises during the day. Sometimes families with children may stay at a shelter, but then feel uncomfortable and return to living in cars or other less than warm places.
The goal was to create not only something easily portable a child could use to keep warm, but to have it remind the child that God loves them even during rough times. We have done this several times over the years. The children who make the quilts have a blast. It allows us to use the talents of the women in our congregation who sew and the agencies who receive the finished products are always thrilled.
We start by purchasing about one or two yards of white muslin and a colorful quilting fabric. The actual size depends on how large you want the quilts to be. You can make them as small as crib quilts or about the size of a large afghan. If you are doing this at church, we have found that we can usually get most of the materials donated. It is amazing how many people have large pieces of fabric they are willing to give you for special projects.
Give the children pencils and paper at first. Encourage them to design a quilt so that if this is the only thing the person ever hears about God, it will leave them feeling loved and wanting to learn more. We actually use a large piece of butcher paper or newsprint the size of the quilt. This allows the children to work on how large their drawings must be. Since we usually have several children working on one quilt, it also helps them co-ordinate their designs.
Once the design is like the children want it, have them sketch it lightly in pencil on the muslin. Encourage them to stay about three inches away from the edges. We have tried those special sewing pencils that wash out, but they don’t work as well for something like this.
After the design is sketched on the muslin, have the children color it with fabric markers. Fabric paint tends to be too thick. Fabric markers are expensive, but I usually wait until I have a good coupon at one of the craft stores. A set of markers usually lasts for several quilts or similar projects. Encourage the children to really color it in well and brightly so the children who receive the quilts can read and understand them.
After the quilt top is finished, it is ready to be made into a quilt. Take a contrasting piece of cotton or cotton/polyester quilting fabric and lay it pattern side down on a large table. Place either quilt batting or a used blanket on top of that. The quilt top should be laid decorated side up on the very top. Trim the contrasting fabric and batting until it is about three inches larger than the top, to give your finishers room to work and make corrections. Older children can even baste the three pieces together.
If you have the time and women who are willing to bring sewing machines, you can finish the entire project in a few hours. We have also taken two Bible class hours to make the top and baste it. We then took the week in between to have our women sew the binding around the edges and place the yarn for the children to finish tying the quilts. It only takes a few minutes to tie the quilts if the threads are already in place. If we have older children and enough time, we allow them to place the yarn to tie the quilts and tie them. Younger children can usually barely handle just the tying part.
Once the quilt is bound, thread a needle with contrasting yarn. I try to place the future knots several inches apart all throughout the quilt. The knots will help keep everything in place and can add more color to the design. I use scrap yarn from my knitting. If the yarn frays easily, you will have to tie additional knots at the end of each thread. I take the threaded needle (unknotted thread) and starting from the quilt top, go down and come back up about an inch away from where I went down. Cut the thread so that both ends have about two inches to then tie together and make a knot.
If your children have never been to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, it is great to have them deliver the quilts to the director and then request a tour. Call before you go though. We have always been met with great enthusiasm, but sometimes the shelters have programs going on and may not have the time to talk with you if you show up unannounced.
So head to your favorite craft store (JoAnn’s is the one in our area that has everything you will need.) and have some fun helping the homeless and sharing God’s love with them.