Thursday, March 23, 2017

Weighted Blankets and Warm Stories

"Stories happen to those who tell them," a mentor of mine once said.

I can't recall why I was listening to this podcast a while back, but what the instructor said about comedic dialogue is true for stories as well: You never cut off the conversation, the possibility, the story, with a No.

You just keep going and see where it takes you.

For my newspaper column in January I wrote about my fabric obsession and stash.  I had a voice speaking into one ear, "Seriously, you want the world to know how crazy you are?" and another voice in the other ear, "Deadline deadline DEADLINE!"

I met the deadline.

Through that column, I've found a sisterhood--women who write or call or pull me aside at speaking events and confide that they are Just Like Me! Imagine! And we giggle together and talk about sewing and cottons and scraps and patterns and always our shocking stash.

Last week I spoke at a Rotary Club in Springfield.  Afterwards, an older woman told me that her son's wife had passed away, and her son, going through her things, was dumbfounded at the huge quantity of quilt fabric, patterns, and supplies.  Why would she collect such a pile? "I sent him a copy of your article," the woman said, "and he told me, 'Now I understand.'"

A 77-year-old woman named Edith emailed me and said she makes weighted blankets for autistic children, and she would take any fabric pieces over a yard in size that I'd want to donate.

I asked more questions.  These blankets are sewn in a 6-inch grid, and each square contains a measured amount of Fiberfill and heavy plastic beads.  There's something magic about that warmth and weight that helps special-needs children sleep better.

I said I would love to donate to her cause, and rounded up two grocery bags full of fabrics--some colorful wovens and some flannels--all appropriate for children.

Today she came to pick it up.  A friend named Carrie who's started helping her sew came along, and also the friend's sister Donna from Alaska.

Edith was delighted.  I told her not to feel obligated to take it all if some pieces won't work for her, but she was thrilled with all of them.
It was so fun to see Edith digging and admiring.

More digging.
And more digging.  I like the movement in this picture.
Then we sat down and talked.

I forget how many blankets Edith and her helpers have already made, but they have a list of 60 families waiting for one.  She hears so many testimonials, such as the mom who reported that her 5-year-old slept through the night for the first time ever when he got his blanket. And that's what keeps her going and sewing.

"I don't waste a thing," she said proudly. "If there's leftover fabric, I use it for pillowcases for kids in the hospital. If the pieces are too small for pillowcases, I use them for the--oh, what do you call that?--the edge trim on the pillowcase.  And the really small scraps I give to another group and they make quilts for veterans."

She grinned.

I had prickles on the back of my neck, because sometimes God reaches down and gives me a little touch of Mom.  "That is EXACTLY the kind of thing my mom would do," I told Edith.  "She would just love you."

[After Edith left, Emily, who had come bustling through on her way to class, said, "Did you think about how much Edith's voice sounded like Grandma Yoder?"

She was right.  Then I really had prickles on my neck.]

But we are still visiting in the living room, telling more stories.

Donna had sat quietly smiling through our conversation.  So I turned to her and asked where in Alaska she was from. "Wrangell. It's an island off the panhandle," she said. "It's 26 miles long, with about 12 miles of paved road, and it's closer to Seattle than Anchorage. We're part of the world's second largest rain forest."

It's always interesting to hear what takes people to Alaska, so I asked her.

"We grew up there. Our family's been there forever."

"Oh! You're native Alaskans!"

"Yes. Well, Alaska Natives."

So that's how you say it. Tlingit, to be exact, it turns out.

How fascinating is that.  So then the sisters talked about totems and beadwork and growing up on the island, where people worked in either logging or fishing.

See, if you keep turning life's pages, you keep getting more of the story, which circled around to another story about sewing, which was as heartwarming as a weighted blanket.

When Carrie and Donna were young, a family from Oregon had come to the island to work as commercial fishermen, but they were desperately poor--so poor that the father and two sons had only one pair of shoes between them, and whoever needed them least that day went without, in the snow and cold.  And sometimes the second-grade boy clomped around in these men's shoes with his little stick legs.

The family was also too proud to accept gifts, which was incomprehensible to the people on the island who took care of each other and had always shared what was needed.

The family had two daughters who were Donna's friends. Their mom sewed feed-sack dresses for them by hand.

One day Donna had an idea.  She had wandered around the back rooms of the Presbyterian church, much like my children in their day explored the furnace rooms and balconies of Sheridan Mennonite when we went there for special meetings, and in a closet in an upstairs Sunday school room, Donna had seen a sewing machine.

She asked her mom if she could have it. Her mom sent her to the pastor's wife.  The pastor's wife had no idea the machine even existed and finally said, Yes, she could have it.

The machine was almost too heavy to carry, but she lugged it to her friends' home on the fishing boat. Was it because the mom saw her as a personal friend that she accepted it? I don't know, but the mom ended up with a little sewing business. People would bring pants and things to mend, and she would also cut patterns from paper sacks and sew dresses. It gave her a dignified way to help support her family.

At the end of that year, the family went back to Oregon.  I don't know what became of the sewing machine or the friends.

But I loved the story.

See, that is how it works, with both fabric and stories. One thing leads to another, people connect, and windows open into faraway lives.

And the fabric I bought at a garage sale in 2005 and never turned into a dress for Jenny can now help an anxious little child sleep better at night.

Isn't that amazing?
Here's me and Edith. I'm holding a weighted blanket she brought to show me.
She's holding fabric.
We are happy.


  1. Beautiful sacrifices - the one who gives (up) the fabric and the ones who sew the blankets.

  2. Weighted blankets are wonderful! Many kids in the foster care/adoption world use weighted blankets for sensory issues and anxiety. My kids love their weighted blankets and take them along on trips, even to the dentist, etc. Thank you for being a part in blessing families!

  3. That is a lovely thing for both of you ladies. I loved the story !

  4. It's a very rewarding, win-win situation! Keep up the good work and the stories!! Thank you and God Bless

  5. A wonderful example of "Stories happen to those who tell them," LRM

  6. What a neat story! Are you familiar with Karyn Purvis ("The Connected Child")? I believe that's where we first heard about weighted blankets, for any kids "from hard places" (foster/adopted/special needs). I've wished to try them with ours, but have never gotten around to making or purchasing any.

    1. I haven't heard of Karyn Purvis but I will look her up.

  7. Hope you like your flower vase it's from my heart

  8. I'm going to make sure my mom reads this! I have a special needs sister who struggles to sleep through the night. I have never heard of these blankets but I'm facinated by the idea.

    1. There are some good tutorials online. I hope this helps!

  9. God works in amazing ways – we need only be available.

  10. I looked up the column about fabric and laughed out loud! I can so totally relate to that. I have a suspicion that my fabric has taken the commandment to heart to multiply and replenish the earth. No matter how much I use or give away, there is always more! And I don't buy more fabric; expect when I see a charming piece at the thrift store, or am in Amish country and stop in at a darling quilt shop, or, well, I guess I do buy a little bit. Thanks for sharing your stories. Your way with words touches my heart. Keep up the good work.

  11. I love this story and the beautiful connection you made with "strangers" who turned into friends. Those kind of seemingly random connections can be such fun when the dots connect or stories are shared or common ground is found.

    My husband is a "native Alaskan" but not an Alaska Native! Oh the nuances. :)

  12. We are one of those lucky families to get a blanket made by edith. She is an angel.