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Not your grandma’s quilting group

Jonathan Larbi puts together quilts on a sewing machine he has learned to operate as part of a quilt-making project.

The cohort of quilters at Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Luke in Chicago, Illinois is not your grandma’s quilting group.

Or at least it’s not only your grandma’s quilting group.

Visit a quilting session and you’ll see middle school-aged workers alongside seasoned members, producing quilts that will make their way to Lutheran World Relief and, from there, people in need around the world.

This effort started around 2000 as a way to bring older and younger members of the congregation together. It has since blossomed into a full-on, inter-generational passing of the sewing machine.

Students work with their counterparts to produce quilts while simultaneously getting lessons on how those quilts will impact people around the world and where they end up.

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Laura Abrahamson, a co-coordinator of programs at St. Luke said she observed the children watching a video about quilts that had gone to Angola. The people receiving them were living in extremely harsh conditions. “I watched the kids as they watched. They were all very moved by it.”

Raluca Giurgiu and Dolly Schmucker work on quilts as part of an inter-generational sewing program.

“It was a great feeling in my heart,” said Christopher Luna, 13. “You’re helping someone across the world.”

“People feel like you really can’t make a difference when you’re younger.  But you can,” said Raluca Giurgiu, 14.

In their first year the students get instructions on how quilts are made. By the time they leave they can create their own.

“I was at the hunger fast [Planned Famine], but this was the first time I did something with my hands that would help people,” said Giselle Escamilla, 13. “I know other people would be using it to keep warm.”

Laura said boys tend to be good on the machines because she tells them manipulating the pedals is like driving a car. “The downside is from month to month they forget the procedure,” she laughs.

“The students seemed to enjoy learning a task that was not ‘regular school,’” said Irene Borg, who started quilting about 30 years ago, when she turned 40. She said her favorite part of working with the children was “The laughter, the sharing, the sewing. It helps me learn. I learned on a sewing machine from the children.”

The group has averaged at least 10 quilts a year since they began years ago. The running total is close to 200, Laura said.

Some of the quilts have gone to India, others to the Philippines and others to Syria and Peru.

For Laura, watching the young sewers brings back memories of her own work decades ago when she was an unwilling student in a sewing class who wanted to take drafting. She came to love it. “Maybe one of them in another 50 years will be turning around and teaching other kids.”

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