These quilters are making 1,000 Canada 150 quilts for families of sick children

One very special Canada 150 project hopes to make two quilts for every room at Ronald McDonald Houses across Canada.

The goal: two quilts for every room at Ronald McDonald Houses across Canada.

One very special Canada 150 project hopes to make two quilts for every room at Ronald McDonald Houses across Canada. 0:56

How many hands does it take to make 1,000 quilts?

The Canadian Quilters Association is going to find out as members from across the country have started working towards Canada's Big Quilt Bee — it may even be the biggest quilting bee of all time.

Making 1,000 quilts is not just a lofty goal, it's a gift: the quilts are being made to provide two to every room at Canadian Ronald McDonald Houses, which provide families of sick children with a home to stay at while their child is being treated at a nearby hospital.

"It's not a sad place … the Ronald McDonald Houses, these children have serious diseases, but there's such a sense of warmth there that it's a happy project," says the Canadian Quilters Association president Leslie Whitby.

The one thing about quilters is they're very generous.- Leslie Whitby

Whitby's quilting guild volunteers at the local Ronald McDonald House, where she's seen the charity's work up close. "I couldn't do enough for this organization. What they do for families, it's amazing."

She knew members of the association would get behind some kind of project for Ronald McDonald Houses — in 2015, the association raised $11,000 for the Make a Wish Foundation by selling works from some of the country's best quilters.

"The one thing about quilters is they're very generous," says Whitby.

And for 2017, those generous quilters decided to dream big.

The #bigquiltbee blocks use a pattern designed by Calgary's Cheryl Arkison. (Instagram: @coconut_quilter)

"This is a special event to celebrate Canada 150," says Whitby. "We wanted to do something special ... we've never tried anything of this size before."

Thus, #bigquiltbee was born — in what might be Canada's biggest quilt bee ever, over 88 guilds from across the country are participating. It all culminates in a four-day quilt bee in June.

Plus an extra sesquicenntenial touch: each quilt block includes one piece of fabric from four different Canada 150 fabric lines specially designed by different manufacturers.

Piece by piece

To ensure the success of their goal, the association is inviting individuals to contribute as little as a single 12-by-12-inch block — although they welcome contributions of multiple blocks or full quilt tops too.

Blocks and tops have been arriving at Whitby's home from across Canada, but also from the U.S. and even from a quilter in France.

Four quilt blocks made by members of the Prince Edward Island modern quilt guild for the #bigquiltbee. (Instagram: @peimqg)

Those pieces are now being made into complete quilts in two sizes, either 12 blocks or 24 blocks, and Whitby herself has completed 50 quilts so far. Come June, an army of volunteers will gather at the quilt bee in Toronto to finish the rest.

"It's not a lot of time to make 1,000 quilts!" says Whitby. "Quilting is not the fastest thing in the world." But as word of the #bigquiltbee is spreading, more and more hands are making light work.

 

Places of hope

Many families at Ronald McDonald Houses have extended stays — often as long as six months to a year, says Whitby. "And that's a long time to be away from home."

The quilts will be a gift that families get to take with them at the end of a stay, "so that they sort of think of it as a hug.... That the best wishes go with these families who have been there for a very long time."

The warmth of that hug-feeling is part of what's drawing in quilters and would-be quilters alike to the #bigquiltbee. "I have people trying to uplift the families so that they can can continue on their way," says Whitby. "[Ronald McDonald Houses] are places of hope. That's how I think of them."

Canada's Big Quilt Bee is taking place June 14-17 in Toronto. To attend or contribute to the 1,000 quilts, visit canadianquilter.com for details.

Two of the finished quilts that will head to families at Ronald McDonald Houses. (Instagram: @geig88 and @stitchengurl)

Are you creating art for, about or because of Canada's 150th? Share your paintings, photography, music, poetry or local event with us at 2017@cbc.ca

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