Ask Jo: On Charity Quilts

Every so often questions or comments come to me that I think everyone might be interested in learning the answer to.  Then I address them here on the blog.  Today is one of those days.

I recently finished a quilt for our grandson Scotty.  I had shown pictures of the quilt saying that I had some problems with the waviness.  Making it was a learning experience for me and trust me, I learned some lessons.  At completion of the top, it looked like this….

Not good.  I didn’t know how it would end up looking.  I was sure it would be okay but didn’t know if it would be awesome.  In the blog post I wrote about it…  (Read that HERE if you missed it)  I wrote, “I thought I should set the quilt aside and make a new one but then I decided: Nope.  I’m not putting it back in the closet.  I am quilting it.  If it turns out, it will be Scotty’s quilt.  If not, it will go on to charity.”

After talking about the problems I had with Scotty’s quilt, this comment came in from Dorian:

I would still give it to Scotty too… if it’s not good enough for your own, why does it go to charity? Don’t they deserve something worthy like family? I’m sorry if that came out rough, but I really want to know. It’s been on my mind for a few years now. I see many, many quilts go to charity (via the internet) and I see many, many people say “if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just give it to charity” or “This isn’t quality fabric, but it’s good enough for charity”. I would think that those in need, need good quality quilts, not ones that will fall apart thru lack of quality materials. Or receiving them just because of a few puckers or such. I really am just curious, I’m not trying to be negative or say you don’t do good, because I know you do wonderful work for charity and you give lots.”

I’ve thought a lot about this comment.  I was a little surprised by the comment and really started thinking about it.  I know when donating quilts, I always donate my “not so favorite ones”.  I have donated ones that didn’t meet my expectations…but it that wrong?  Is that cheating the recipient?

Then I thought, “Nope…I’m not writing about this.  It’s a can of worms”.  But then the more I thought about, I decided I am going to write about my personal thoughts on charity quilt giving…so here goes.

I have made and donated quilts through Lutheran World Relief.  Some quilters would be bothered if they saw the quilts that are put together and donated.

Here is a photo of quilts being gifted….

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Here is the picture of quilts that are being dedicated in a church.  (These are actually pretty fabulous on the LWR quilt spectrum.)
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Here are quilt that our daughter Kayla’s Home Ec class put together that will be donated to Lutheran World Relief.

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I can guarantee that some of these quilts are made from inferior fabrics.  Some use old quilts for batting.  Some have cotton fabric on the front and sheets on the backing.  Some are made from old draperies.

When working with Lutheran World Relief, quilters are TOLD, “Do not make nice quilts.  The will be stolen if you do”.  Using mish matched, sometimes inferior fabric is part of the process.

I do want to stop here just a minute….Inferior fabric means a lot of different things to different people.  Here is a list of reasons why some people classify fabric as “inferior”.
-not quilt shop fabric
-fabric from JoAnn’s
-fabric that is dated
-fabric that feels stiff
-fabric that has a poor thread count

For me, none are “inferior”….they all each have their place.

A good portion of LWR relief quilts are not used for warmth.  Many are thrown in low tree branches and used as shade.  Many are used as a clean surface to eat a meal.  As quilts come in to LWR they are sorted so they can be distributed appropriately.

That covers one of my experiences with charity quilt giving.  The next I’d like to cover is my experience while thrifting.  You all I know I thrift.  I thrift a lot.  In my thrifting I regularly find quilts that were donated by charitable groups to people and the people then donated them to thrift stores.  Hmm.  Many of these quilts are in NEW condition.  MANY.

I have also talked with people who were VERY offended that charity quilts they made were later found at thrift stores.

That covers my thrifting experience….now on to personal giving.  This one isn’t a charitable giving comment but a personal.  I gifted a quilt.  It was well beyond anything I would give as a charity quilt.  The child who got it, isn’t allowed to use it as it doesn’t “match” their room.

I gave another quilt to a young one that I thought could use a nice quilt.  The person left it at my house and forgot about it.  Then 6 weeks later came back and wanted it.  It didn’t mean much to them in the first place…did it?

I have personally had experience with people who are receiving assistance to:
-Complain about what was gifted to them
-Complain about the amount that was gifted to them
-Sign up for donations and then turn around and buy $170 pair of jeans then claiming they have no money.
-Sign up for donations and have WAY fancier cars, phones and clothes then I personally have.

Here are some quilts I have donated personally.  Why did I donate it?  I made it but it wasn’t a quilt I attached to.  I thought it needed borders and had lost my gusto to figure it out.

Another quilt I donated… Why?  It was small…I don’t really have a place for it.  I have many other quilts here I like better.

Another…I made this from fabric that I didn’t love and wanted to use up.

Wasn’t fabric I loved….

None of these quilts were quilts my family would have wanted- besides, my immediate family has enough quilts.  Does any of that make them “charity or donation quilts”?

Taken the things I’ve said into consideration.  When I donate a quilt to charity I do not pick my best and most favorite.  My family and I myself deserve them.

I do not know, at times, when I gift a quilt, who will be getting it.  Will the person genuinely love and want it?  Will the person give it to the thrift store? Why give my best when I don’t know?

I finished a bunch of quilt tops for the West, Texas disaster a few years ago.  This picture warmed my heart.


This lady is obviously happy with her quilt.  I long armed and finished this very quilt.

In my writing of the blog post I wrote, “If it turns out, it will be Scotty’s quilt.  If not, it will go on to charity.”

My family knows quilting because they are around it all the time.  My family might notice the bow on the side of the quilt…  See?

Others who don’t know quilts might not even recognize it.

This quilt turned out just perfect for Scotty.

The bottom line for me is this:
I am the giver.  I can give what I want.
They are the receiver.  They can accept whatever they want.

There is nothing wrong with me giving a quilt from dated fabric.  There is nothing wrong with me giving a quilt without the highest thread count to an appropriate organization.  There is nothing wrong with me giving a quilt that has a pucker or two in the quilting.  They typically don’t show after being washed unless it is examined closely.  I can give a quilt with a “bow”.  Who knows where the quilt will end up anyway?

With all of this in mind….I focus my giving on
-causes me or my family are part of
-causes that are for someone who has hit rock bottom
-causes that benefit the makers AND the recipients

I love helping with quilts for Cheryl’s organization House of Hope….they help women being released from prison and they have nothing else.  Lori’s organization Sharehouse who are helping people with addictions.  There are more out there but these are two I like.

I have also found GREAT JOY in giving and supporting the causes of others.  I look at the benefit of charity quilting being more for the people making the quilts than the recipients.  When I quilted with the ladies for LWR, it was a wonderful sharing time where the people who came socialized, caught up and supported each other.  Of all the things I do with charity quilting, this means the absolute most to me.  There are so many people out there making quilts that this is the the thing that make them feel needed and wanted.  Everyone needs to feel needed.  To be honest, with the charity quilting I do, this is more of my mission than actually giving the quilts.

Please note:  These are my personal thoughts based on my personal experience.  Everyone is welcome to leave a comment on this post.  Please be respectful and base your comment on your own experience and your own thoughts without criticizing another’s.

28 thoughts on “Ask Jo: On Charity Quilts”

  1. Some givers are picky about where “their” quilts go – even charity ones. Unfortunately, quilts to homeless are sometimes lost or stolen and they don’t want that happening to Theirs. My friend who organizes our guild’s “comfort” quilts knows she can use my quilts for Hospice families that want to wrap their loved one. Yes, that means it gets buried or cremated with them. I don’t care if it provides even the smallest amount of comfort – I receive grace by my giving. My Mother was wrapped in my first ever all new, all by myself quilt. I kept saving it for a “special girl.” Years later, I knew who that special girl is. A friend overnighted it to me just in time for the viewing.

  2. I like my quilts square as much as anyone. That doesn’t mean they are perfect. Finishing a gift is the goal and a gift from the heart is a gift from the heart.

    Each person has their own comfort zone. It was gracious of you to take the time to address the comment.

    now let’s all quilt!

  3. Hi Jo,

    Before I got my longarm , I made a few baby panel quilts. I wanted to learn how to quilt on my new longarm. I was very happy how they turn out. I also learned to do nice binding. Over time I gave them away.
    Long story short… I still had about six left i wanted to give. So I went to the local hospital. They said we are picky we don’t know how you made them? Kind of made me mad . I ended up giving them to mothers in need. They were happy.

  4. Thank you Jo, I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. I have many quilt tops that I would like to donate, and I am kind of collecting information and thoughts and I think about it myself a lot, and I really was just curious.

    1. Dorian Thanks for the question.It really did give me a chance to think it all through. Any time we think things through I think we become more passionate about our true cause. I realized mine is to help the ladies who are making the quilts!!

  5. I also wanted to donate quilts to a local hospital children’s cancer ward. The chaplain for the group stated they might have germs so the cancer ward didn’t want the quilts. But I could donate them to the NICU unit. The quilts were twin to queen size. So this hospital lost out on a great donation. Why would anyone give permuture babies twin size quilts. Also if the quilts had germs more of a reason not to give them to the NICU unit. Another hospital I contacted wanted any and quilts I could give them.

  6. Once a year local churches participate in a “comforter bash” where quilt tops are knotted for charity. I’ve donated many tops that I personally didn’t like. Some of them were just too busy for me, some were colors I didn’t like. One I made as a mystery BOM with Pat Sloan, I absolutely hated that quilt! But many readers who read my blog liked them. So it really boils down to what we like. Everyone has different tastes, like different styles and colors. I sew the disliked quilts just as skillfully as I sew the quilts I really like.

  7. I second the “well said.” I feel that every fabric that can fit under a presser foot probably has a useful place in a quilt…..remember those polyester double knits? Can’t beat them for durability and bright cheerful colors! Sometimes I tie my charity quilts, I use a deeper seam for durability, if I do decide to have them quilted, I let my gal know it isn’t going anywhere that it will be handled with kid gloves and she quilts it a little tighter so it can stand a laundromat if that is it’s lot in life. We give quilts because we like to play with fabric and hopefully bring joy to someone.

  8. God bless! I love your views on charity quilting. I make quilts specifically for giving away and some become gifted for some of the reasons you mention–not my favorite colors, family have my quilts already, and sometimes I just want to try something new but have no purpose planned for the quilt…why keep it? Sometimes I feel the need to practice more FM quilting and choose a UFO with intent to gift. I have made quilts for people I know with no response or acknowledgement of receipt (like your visitor who forgot to take the quilt with her/him). Bottom line: I don’t want to worry that something I gift isn’t good enough; I put everything I can into each project or quilt. It comes from my heart and hands. Thank you to you, Jo, for your interesting and informative blogs. I’ve missed many recently, but so happy I caught this blog. :o)

  9. Well said and thank you for addressing the woman’s comment. I had read it and I appreciate you taking the time to explain yourself because you were explaining many other Quilters as well.

  10. I understand the comment that the writer stated, but I agree with you Jo. I have done many quilts for charity that I did not like due to personal preference, but that does mean they are not worthy of being a donation. We all give out of love and compassion. I always try to do my best whether for my family or others, but am blessed to be able to give what I have.

  11. When I first read that comment it made me also thing about why I donate some and not others. I have also made quilts for LWR and they were simple 10 inch squares and tied. We used blankets as batting and many of them had no batting, because not all countries need warmth from the quilts. I make quits for others because I wish to share my talents and love for others. I know many of my quilts have been put in a closet to be saved! for what?? and others have become pets bed. Once gone they no longer belong to me but sometimes it makes me sad. I also donate quilts that enjoyed making but were not in love with so moved them on for someone else to enjoy. Thanks for answering a difficult question.

  12. Carol Lorraine Stearns

    Thank you. I too quilt for LWR and as a decorator, lots of my left over fabrics find their way into quilts. I think we have some of the pretties quilts donated but that doesn’t mean they are better. Just that one person devotes herself to coordinating the squares and as a designer, I help with backings and cutting the squares. With the devastation from Hurricane Michael in Panama CIty and points east, our guild is making pillowcases to donate and one of my suppliers is sending in 100 pillows. I have contacts with mission groups who are in PC helping. Charity sewing is quite often for the giver and maker as much as it is for the receiver. Quilters have to quilt and sew and give. One of our members came to me and said that pillowcases were a waste of time. What can you do with a pillowcase, she said. You ought to at least put a drawstring in it for them to carry their stuff. I just looked at her. We will likely have more than 200 cases to donate. And they will find a home as so many have lost everything in the small towns surrounding Panama City, Tyndall AFB< Mexico Beach, Port St Joe, Marianna, Fountain, Lynn Haven and more. So much devastation. If it will put a smile on a child's face it is worth the effort. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Jo, could you give a little more information on “Cheryl’s House of Hope” organization? Where are they located? I would love to learn more about them. Thanks for your comments on charity quilts. There have been many times that I have gifted quilts and once you give it away, you just hope that people use it and love it. The community of quilters tend be generous and compassionate and sharing with others is a good thing!

  14. bobbie campbell

    All thoughts are spot on, well said. I’ve also thought about this question, thanks for opening it for discussion.

  15. I make donation quilts using my own fabric. I will save out “special” fabrics that I just love and not use them in donation quilts. Then I will make a quilt thinking it will be for myself and I use that “special” fabric. It is then that I realize that I can turn loose of the quilt and fabric because I got what I wanted just by the process of sewing that fabric into a quilt. I do not make quilts because I need quilts, I make quilts for the challenge and to show others they are loved.

  16. I agree with you Jo. I quilt with a small group at our church. We use donated fabric and donate the finished project to nursing homes, etc. One of the ladies is very persnickety about everything. Me, not so much. I know the recipients are happy to receive the quilts. None of them are ever hideous, most are not “perfect” but they are made with love.
    We also have a local church that makes actual “ugly” quilts for the homeless. Any of the fabric we receive that is not cotton, we bag up and make a trip to drop it off for their use. They use old sleeping bags, etc. as batting and yarn scraps for tying. I dropped off 5 or 6 garbage bags of fabric a couple of weeks ago. Nothing goes to waste:)
    Thanks for sharing your life with us.

  17. When I do Quilts of Valor, I do use ‘family’ quality fabrics. I figure my son’s buddies are also worth my best. But I can see the point of doing ‘rough and tough’ quilts for use in relief work and with the homeless. There warmth trumps design for certain.

  18. I am an 81 year old caregiver to my husband. I recently started quilting to keep me connected to the outside world. My intention was always to donate the mostly baby or lap quilts. After reading this string, I am sad and demoralized to learn how hand-made quilts are received and treated by those to whom they are given. What is the solution to this dilemma?

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