They call it the Open Door Quilt House, and that’s pretty much what it is – a two-story farmhouse that’s been converted into a clubhouse for quilters across Johnston County and beyond.
The house, at 635 Mt. Pleasant Road, Willow Spring, is home to the Johnston County chapter of Quilt for Kids, a Pennsylvania-based charity that makes and sends quilts to hospitals for ill and abused children.
The chapter supplies quilts to 10 North Carolina hospitals, not all of them familiar names. They are Levin Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital in Concord, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham, Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, Vidant Children’s Hospital in Greenville, WakeMed Children’s Hospital in Raleigh, Western Wake in Cary, New Hanover Regional Children’s Hospital in Wilmington and Holly Hill Hospital in Raleigh.
The quilters annually distribute about 1,000 quilts, plus baby hats and pillow cases to the hospitals. And they do it all from the Quilt House.
Recently, the group won a $5,000 grant from AT&T Pioneers to aid its efforts to deliver the handmade quilts.
Bonnie Whitley is the group’s leader and lives just down the way from the Quilt House. She and her husband bought the house and opened it for quilting in 2014.
“After eight dumpsters and some remodeling, the first event was held in December (2014),” Whitley said. “Since then, we have become a landmark for the community and I hope a place for fellow quilters to come and just get away.”
The group accepts quilters of all skills levels, including those who have never so much as threaded a needle.
“Everyone is welcome,” said Vickie Earl, Whitley’s sister and fellow quilter. “We’ll teach anyone who wants to help.”
Inside the Quilt House are rooms set side for each stage in the quilting process. It starts with the fabric room, which has shelves of cloth surrounding a large table where quilters design patterns and take careful measurements. Rooms across the hall hold sewing machines for quilters to work on individual projects.
Snacks laid out in the small kitchen fuel the quilters. Another room houses a large piece of machinery used to assemble the quilts.
It’s all a far cry from where the group started.
“I think we held the first workshop in a garage in 2012,” Whitley said. “Now people come from all over.”
And it’s not just experience and hometowns that vary among the quilters; it’s also age and gender.
“We’ve got a teenage boy who comes in with his grandmother,” Earl said. “He’s put out two in one night before.”
Many of the quilters are retirees looking for a new purpose, Earl said. “It’s nice to have something to do and know you’re giving back too,” she said. “Our mom is in her 80s, and she helps out.”
Each quilt comes with a label with the name of the person or persons who made it. The names are many: Hundreds of quilters have come through the house, and on any given day, the house welcomes 15 to 25 quilters working on projects together or individually.
“We’ve got new sewers, old sewers,” Earl said. “We have people who know every step of the process and some people who aren’t confident picking colors or patterns and ask for help. We’re all teaching each other new things all the time.”
Earl has even learned new techniques on YouTube that she’s taught the group. “You’d be amazed what you can learn on there,” she said.
But it’s the sick and abused children who motivate the group.
“It’s really the little ones that we’re thinking of,” Earl said, thumbing through fabric. “Sometimes when they’re sick, they can’t hang on to that teddy bear, so they need something with them for comfort.”
The group also creates quilt kits that it sends to quilters to assemble and return to the group. That way, quilters don’t have to travel to the house to support the effort.
“We do a lot of fellowship, and we have a good time in the house,” Whitley said. “And we’re here to help each other and teach. But we always welcome anyone who wants to help out in any way.”
The group also supports Quilts of Valor, which sends quilts to U.S. military veterans.
“It’s our way of giving back,” Earl said. “We want to help others, and this is a small way we can do that.”
Donna Lambdin of Smithfield said she looks forward to her time at the Quilt House. “It’s a chance to spend some time doing something for someone else, but it’s still fun,” she said. “And to think of the children that these are going to go to – that’s what it’s all about.”
The Open Door Quilt House meets from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays. It accepts donations of money, 100-percent cotton fabric, batting and zip-top bags.
For more information, or to make a donation, call 919-894-3326, email firstname.lastname@example.org or search “Open Door Quilt House” on Facebook.
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett
Heritage Quit Show is this week
This year’s Heritage Quilt Show will take place Oct. 6-8 at the Johnston County Agricultural Center, 2736 N.C. 210, Smithfield. Hours are 1-7 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.
This year’s show will feature quilts made for veterans at the veterans’ hospital in Durham. Also, the organizers will raffle a lap blanket. Tickets are $1.
The annual show features a swap meet of gently used craft and quilt items, unused quilts, swatches, tools and notions.
Admission is free, with donations welcomed.