The Unstoppable Dottie Chidester

Dottie Chidester is one of the leaders of the quilting group from the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, in Wilmington, DE.

Last year I had the chance to visit the quilting group at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, in Wilmington, Delaware, where I met Dottie Chidester – a 91-year-old woman on a mission!

“Dottie has kept this group going,” says good friend Fran Dixon. “She’s the kind of person who doesn’t like to sit around, she likes to be doing things and especially things that help others.”

Indeed, during my visit, it was hard to get Dottie to stop and tell me about herself! Instead, she was eager to talk about the quilting group – what they are able to accomplish, how everyone helps, and about the fine-tuned system they use to produce so many quilts each year.

All the fabric and materials are donated, Dottie explained. “We even sometimes get things donated anonymously,” she says. The group meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at around 9 a.m. They work until about 11:30 a.m., taking a break in the middle for devotions, prayer and announcements.

While they are together, the group works on two main tasks: laying out quilt squares and tying quilts. The squares go to volunteers to sew together, either at home or at sewing machines at the church. The tied quilts also go with volunteers to be finished. Dottie herself sews quilt tops on one of her three sewing machines at home. She works on quilts almost every day and has for years.

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A no-nonsense leader, Dottie likes to make the most of quilting time. As she moved around the room helping various volunteers, she told me that the quilting group was started in 1998, by another Dottie – a member by the name of Dottie Patterson. The group began after Patterson found information on quilting for LWR and shared it with their church women’s circle, which was looking for service opportunities. Everyone liked the idea and so they decided to give it a go!

Nowadays, between 10 and 16 people regularly attend the quilting group, including folks who aren’t members of the church. Last year, the group sewed 118 quilts. The group estimates they’ve finished more than 1,400 quilts since the group began. Most of them get delivered to LWR’s warehouse in New Windsor, Md., where they are combined with quilts from other congregations and shipped to places around the world by LWR. The group also uses their quilts to support relief efforts in the U.S.

The ministry has drawn many people from across the congregation – including a few men who perform various tasks, such as cutting quilt squares and helping to deliver finished quilts to the warehouse for shipping abroad.

Members of the group cherish it as a place to come together, socialize and be with friends. “We just have such a grand time together!” says Arlene Steigler, another regular group member.

According to Fran Dixon, a lot of that momentum is thanks to Dottie’s warm personality and passion for service. “The first time I ever met Dottie,” she shares, “I remember thinking ‘I want to get to know her better!’ She’s one of the most generous, caring people I know.”

Recently Dottie had to stop attending the quilting days because of an injury. While she hopes to come back soon, that still hasn’t stopped her from moving the group forward! She still has her three sewing machines, and she’s still sewing quilt tops to send in to the group to tie.

Meanwhile, the group gathers twice a month, happily putting their hopes and prayers for people in need into every stitch. On the day I visited, it was clear that the sentiment expressed by Arlene Steigler is felt across the group. “I’ll tell you this,” she said. “We get a lot more out of our group than just making quilts!”