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Quilt to last: Mums on a mission to make handmade quilts for young care leavers

Two mums found NI branch of movement which provides ‘quilted hugs’ for young care leavers

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Lynne and Nicola display some of their gorgeous quilts

Lynne and Nicola display some of their gorgeous quilts

Lynne and Nicola display some of their gorgeous quilts

Creative mums Lynne Rowntree and Nicola Dorrian-Clark are on a mission. They have set themselves a target of making 60 beautiful handmade quilts by Christmas, and they are appealing for sewers and quilters across the province to help them.

The friends are the founding members of the Northern Ireland branch of Quilts for Care Leavers, an organisation that gives “quilted hugs” to young people who have just left foster care or children’s homes.

Each quilt is made and given with love and carries a label with a positive message such as ‘remember you are brilliant’ or ‘remember you are strong’.

Lynne (55) and Nicola (53) hope to have 60 quilts to distribute to lonely young people by Christmas and plan to establish regional quilting hubs of volunteers “in all corners of Northern Ireland” to keep the movement going into next year and beyond.

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BUSY SEWING BEES: Lynne and Nicola show off some of their handmade quilts complete with comforting messages

BUSY SEWING BEES: Lynne and Nicola show off some of their handmade quilts complete with comforting messages

BUSY SEWING BEES: Lynne and Nicola show off some of their handmade quilts complete with comforting messages

Lynne, from Newtownards, explains: “Young care leavers are people aged 16 to 25 who are leaving the care system and might be living on their own for the first time.

“They might feel lonely or isolated; they might even be spending Christmas on their own.

“Our quilts are sized and designed so they can be wrapped around their shoulders – literally a quilted hug.

“We want them to know that there is someone out there who has made this quilt especially for them.”

Lynne and Nicola have been friends for 15 years after initially meeting at church. Their husbands called them “the witches in stitches” – a reference not only to their sewing but also to how much they laugh when they are together.

Nicola, from Millisle, says: “I come from a creative family; my grandfather was a tailor and my grandmother knitted. I remember standing as a child holding the yarn, so I started sewing and making clothes from a young age.”

Lynne, on the other hand, “didn’t have a creative bone in her body” when she signed up to a sewing class to make a fabric bag about five years ago.

“I made a bag, then another bag, then tried a few different patterns,” she says. “One day I got stuck, called Nicola and asked her to come round and help.”

Nicola adds: “I went straight round, I had to see it to believe it. Low and behold, there was a project on the go!”

The pair started meeting at their houses for “stitch and bitch” sessions and when the lockdowns began, they used Zoom to keep in touch.

After hearing about the Quilts for Care Leavers initiative in England they contacted the organisation to see if they could get involved. On January 5, 2021, they had a Zoom call with the founder.

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Each quilt is made and given with love, and carries a label with a positive message

Each quilt is made and given with love, and carries a label with a positive message

Each quilt is made and given with love, and carries a label with a positive message

“I asked whether any of the quilts made it to Northern Ireland and she said not yet, but we could start our own group,” says Lynne. “I said, ‘Yep, we can do that’.”

Two days later the pair were on a dog walk at Mount Stewart when Nicola slipped on a stone and landed awkwardly, fracturing her shoulder.

She needed surgery at the Ulster Hospital, and it put her right arm – her quilting hand – temporarily out of commission.

“I was sitting of the sofa watching daytime TV, bored with a bank card, a dangerous combination,” she laughs. “I saw an offer for a long-armed quilter, a large mechanical quilting machine, and couldn’t resist.”

With Nicola’s new piece of kit installed in her spare bedroom, the Northern Ireland branch of Quilts for Care Leavers was going from strength to strength.

Lynne had posted messages on sewing and creative groups, and a number of people had volunteered their time and skills.

The women started giving out patterns and soon donations were being posted to Lynne’s home – everything from blocks to be stitched into quilts to finished projects. They also began having a monthly block drive.

“There are a few golden rules,” she explains. “Our sizes are specific because we make quilts that can be draped around the shoulders to form a hug.

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Lynne and Nicola are founding members of the Northern Ireland branch of Quilts for Care Leavers

Lynne and Nicola are founding members of the Northern Ireland branch of Quilts for Care Leavers

Lynne and Nicola are founding members of the Northern Ireland branch of Quilts for Care Leavers

“We also stay away from using any licensed material – things like Disney or Marvel – and we try to avoid any material that has pictures of houses or homes on it because that could cause upset.”

With their volunteers up and running, Nicola and Lynne set themselves their first target – to make 60 quilts by the end of 2021 that could be distributed to care leavers via two of the health and social care trusts.

Next year they hope to include the remaining trusts so that care leavers “in every corner of Northern Ireland” will benefit.

The pandemic has made group events difficult but moving forward they also want to hold more sew-along sessions for volunteers to meet and quilt together. And they would like to establish hubs in different parts of the province.

“We won’t know who the quilts are gifted to, it will be anonymous, the health trusts will identify the care leavers who need them,” explains Lynne.

“We also want to build our stock up so care leavers can choose from a selection and pick the design they like.”

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The quilters have set themselves a target of making 60 handmade quilts by Christmas

The quilters have set themselves a target of making 60 handmade quilts by Christmas

The quilters have set themselves a target of making 60 handmade quilts by Christmas

Lynne and Nicola are now appealing for more volunteer sewers and quilters and would love to hear from anyone who wants to get involved – including individuals, sewing groups and WIs.

They would also welcome donations of appropriate fabric.

“If you can sew then we can use your skill set,” adds Lynne. “We can provide patterns and support.

“We have a 92-year-old lady in Bangor who sends me quilted blocks in the post and another lady who just volunteers to do our edging to put together the finished quilts. There are many ways you can help.

“All of the quilts made in Northern Ireland will stay in Northern Ireland too.”

To volunteer call Lynne on 07543 119805 or email: q4cleavers@gmail.com with Northern Ireland branch in the subject heading. There is also a Facebook page, search Quilts for Care Leavers Makers


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