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Charity Quilting: The Heartstrings Quilt Project

Charity Quilting:  The Heartstrings Quilt Project

By Janelle Cahoon, Quiltcentric

If like most quilters you have overflowing scrap bins and the vague idea you should do something useful with them, but may not have the time or desire to make a whole charity quilt yourself, the Heartstrings Quilt Project may be perfect for you.  I’ve been a member for years.

The idea behind the project is simple but revolutionary:  An online network of charity quilters who each contribute in the way they prefer.  Individual quilters can sew string blocks according to the group’s guidelines and either construct a quilt themselves or send the blocks on to another member to sew together.  Still another member may do the quilting. 

If you have time to make just a couple of blocks, that’s fine.  If you want to do more, that’s even better.  A few years ago several members committed to – and accomplished – the goal of each donating 365 blocks in a year.

Mary Johnson is the person who oversees the Heartstrings Quilt Project Yahoo Group and keeps the group organized and inspired.

“Our goal from the beginning,” she said when I interviewed her, “was to allow people to contribute in a way that was comfortable for them. Some didn’t like to quilt, some didn’t like to assemble tops, others just wanted to make blocks and send them in.  We are structured to allow people to participate in the part of the project that they want:  to make blocks, to assemble tops, to quilt, or to make the entire quilt from start to finish.”

“We encourage people to work within their own groups to make and donate quilts in their local communities,” Mary continued.  “While we accept blocks and tops, our goal is not to have all the quilts come to a central location for finishing and donation.  Typically the quilts are donated where they are finished, so if a volunteer quilter lives in South Carolina, she would receive the tops, [quilt them] and donate the finished quilts there.  When possible we try to minimize the amount of mailing.”

The project doesn’t attempt to track the number of Heartstrings quilts made and donated because of the decentralized nature of the Heartstrings group, but Mary estimates that she’s told about around 1,000 per year.  She notes, however, that there are many groups using the Heartstrings Project’s ideas and patterns to make and donate even more of these quilts within their local communities; the online group may not even be aware of these groups, much less be notified of their contributions.

Finished Heartstrings quilts have been donated to a wide array of causes, ranging from charities like Project Linus and Quilts of Valor, to individual cancer patients.  Many are also sent in the wake of disasters like hurricanes or wildfire if a local group like a church is willing to distribute the quilts to those who need them.

I asked Mary if Heartstrings has any specific needs at the moment and she replied that the group is always interested in having new members join and they do accept donations of fabric that can be used for backing, but that because the group doesn’t have local chapters any fabric donations would need to be mailed.

“What we encourage most of all,” she said, “Is quilters working within their local groups to make and donate quilts in their communities while the group provides support, encouragement and inspiration.  And we’re always thrilled to receive blocks made according to our guidelines to use in group quilts.”

“Heartstrings grew out of a desire to use those leftover bits and pieces of fabric that all quilters accumulate to make and donate quilts that provide warmth and comfort to those in need,” she concluded.  “We are constantly amazed at the beautiful quilts our members make from those leftovers and encourage everyone to give it a try.  There are lots of ideas for using leftover strips and strings on my website at”


What charity quilt groups are you involved with?  We’d like to learn more about them.  Write an article and send it to me through the Contact tab at the top of the page.

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