Thanks to the Quilting Ladies

My last story was about the sewing collective which makes Days for Girls kits in El Salvador.  Many of the women in the US who sew Days for Girls kits also sew quilts for Lutheran World Relief, create baby items for Newborn Kits and use their sewing skills for a variety of ministries in the church.  Fabric closets in Lutheran Church basements are filled with generous donations, and in our church network, some of those end up in El Salvador.  This isn't my first story about giving away fabric in our Salvadoran sister church, nor will it likely by my last, because this is one topic that people ask me about fairly frequently.

How to do a Raffle:

Step 1:  Befriend the quilting ladies or at least send out the word to the quilting group that any fabric not suitable for quilting is welcomed in the El Salvador donation bin.

Step 2:  Sort out the wool and heavy fabrics which are not useful in El Salvador.  Sort out the too-small scraps and anything deemed not worthy of making the 2960 mile trip.  Throw away that which must be thrown away.   Go to the donated suitcase pile and find the heavy hard-sider with no wheels and the old-school chrome pop-up latches.   Wonder why any luggage company ever made suitcases so heavy.  Put the wool and heavy fabric inside and place it into the Goodwill pile.

Step 3:  Fold and roll the yards and yards of cottons and double-knits, of bright colors and floral prints, satin lining, velvet, odd-sizes and shapes of lace and feathery-stuff.  Clearly someone made a wedding dress!  Note the beautiful, sea-foam green taffeta.  Carefully fit as much as possible into a clear, zippered bag that once held a new bed pad.  Bedding bags are so wonderful for packing.  Go to the suitcase pile and find a nice big one with a handle that works and wheels that are still in tact.  Place the plastic bag into the suitcase and hope it weighs less than 50 pounds.  Repeat the process until all of the fabric is packed, or until the interiors committee is satisfied that your donation bin is no longer overflowing.

Step 4:  Sewing notions typically arrive in the donation bin tied-up in plastic Walmart or grocery store bags.   Pack up the notions and place them into the suitcases too.  Watch out for the random pins that pierce the cut ends of seam binding.  Wonder:  who has this much seam binding?  Know:  the ladies in El Salvador will just LOVE these notions.

Step 5:  Haul the suitcases to El Salvador and hope the customs officials are cool.  Technically, fabric might be subject to an import tax, so it is good to be prepared with a letter explaining this is a gift for the sister church.  Obviously, the letter must be signed by your bishop.

Step 6:  On a rainy Salvadoran afternoon, dump all the fabric out onto the clean tile floor.  Start making piles of coordinating fabrics.  Each little bundle gets 1 big piece and a couple of smaller pieces.  Tie the bundles up with recycled ribbon or seam binding.  Imagine the skirts, blouses and dresses that will be created!  Take this project so seriously that afternoon becomes evening.  Note that it is easier to sort fabric colors with daylight.

Step 6:  Sweep the floor.  Fabric is messy.

Step 7:  On another fine rainy afternoon, dump out the notions.  Find all the recycled small bags you can, and fill them with color-coordinated groups of seam binding, lace, ribbons, snaps, zippers, and whatever else was donated.  Sweep the floor. Pick up the loose pins.  Notions are messy too.

Step 8:  Make number cards from small squares of card stock, equal to the number of fabric bundles.  Put them into a recycled ice cream container with a lid.

Step 9:  On a fine day, when church families are scheduled to gather for a meeting and the plan calls for an injection of something special, pack up the fabric, the notions and the numbers and take them to the church.  When the time is right, invite each adult to draw out a number from the ice cream bucket.  A leader can call out numbers:  Number 1!  OK, if no one has number 1, no big deal, keep going.  The rules are:  If your number is called, go up and choose a fabric bundle.  Bring your little kid with you, and she or he can help you choose a little bag of notions.

Step 10:  Take a picture of a 3 year old very seriously considering his notion choice.

Step 11:  Bring your husband along if he makes balloon animals.  That adds a whole new level of fun to the raffle experience.

Step 12:  Listen to the mother of 6 children, as she marvels at the size of a piece of white eyelet fabric which she unfolds from her bundle.  "I can make dresses from this," she whispers to the woman next to her.  The two women agree that it will be more than enough.  "I will make two graduation dresses.  I have one daughter graduating from kindergarten and another older one graduating too."  

Step 13:  Write a story.

For women who sew (and maybe men too), the fondness for good fabric and for collecting good fabric is real.  They also tend to take great pride in utilizing combinations and small pieces to create beautiful things from leftovers.  (True confessions:  I fit into this category.)

When I haul a suitcase of fabric to El Salvador, I know that I am hauling stories of things that were lovingly made and ideas for things that never quite made it to the sewing machine.  Fabric, given to moms and grandmas in El Salvador who sew (and almost all of them do!) by sewing moms and grandmas in their US sister churches is really quite special.  It's a dream of little white dresses or a new flowered blouse or a sassy tan skirt.  It's a chance to be creative.  It's fun.

On behalf of 39 recent raffle winners and dozens of Salvadoran families who recently received quilts, thank you to all who donate fabric to churches for quilting.  Thank you to the quilting ladies who set aside piles of fun fabrics for the sister churches in El Salvador.  And to all who donate the rainbow of seam binding and notions, know that there is always a need for standard sewing machine needles, hand-sewing needles, and thread. 


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