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It takes a village.

November 20, 2011


I recently had the most amazing few days. And weirdly it all started off with something quite scary happening: A neighbour and friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Robert is a healthy, fit, happy-go-lucky guy who is a wonderful father, husband, friend and mentor. It made no sense, and everyone around him reeled from the shock. It’s so hard to know how to help in these situations. Your first response is to want to rush right in and just fix it already. Get a band-aid, a hammer, duct tape, glue, and get stuck in there to solve the problem. But there is no instant fix, and instead it is a journey that those involved will have to take. Never-the-less sitting and doing nothing didn’t seem to be the solution either, which is why Krista & I decided it was time to rally the troops and quilt! And by troops I mean anyone and everyone who wanted to be involved: no stitching experience necessary!!

We emailed invitations and word got out. We bought fabric: beautiful Kaffe Fassett shot cottons and wovens because of their rich, warm colours, and soft comforting touch. Some were bought in Bellingham and some were shipped in from Ottawa.

The plan was to have two long panels on the one side of the quilt that people could embroider on a name, a message or even just an “x”. As long as a little piece of their spirit and love was woven into the fabric in the process. This was to happen during a 5 hour window on the Saturday. Then on the Sunday the serious sewists, 5 of us in total,  would arrive machines under arm so we could piece the other side of quilt in a day. I had 12 replies to the embroidery day, which I thought would be a snug by OK fit around my diningroom table. Totally do-able. Boy, was I in for a surprise. The first people arrived at 11 and quickly filled the diningroom chairs. Neighbours and friends brought cakes, muffins and treats. One friend who owns a coffee shop, brought a huge urn of hot coffee for everyone. My friend Rina brought yummy home-made pizza for the late shift. Before we knew it there was a line-up for a spot at the table. And the people just kept on coming.

It was really interesting how the pattern went. Someone new would walk into the house, perhaps not knowing us or our home, and never having sewn anything before. The apprehension on their faces was very apparent. Nervous laughter or an immediate apology about now knowing how to stitch followed. But within minutes they just melted into the crowd of people who were by now all buzzing with what was going on. And I’m not talking about the stitching here. What was really going on was that people who had been struggling to make sense of this on their own, were now feeling connected with everyone else. They had felt unsure what to do to help, but now they were doing something important. They were no longer scared of stitching because they were surrounded by an overwhelming sense of a bigger picture: a mission to surround a fabulous person in need with a giant rush of positive energy and hope for good things to come. Kind of like an enormous community hug. It was truly a moving experience to watch. Lots of hugging and chatting, some tears and some laughter. Grannies & kids, moms and dads. In the beginning mostly the ladies sewed. But then the guys got stuck in too. We’re talking manly men, who play hockey and football and soccer,  with hairy arms and huge hands threading little needles, and picking out thread colours. These boys, who definitely do not embroider in their spare time, got quite absorbed by the challenge. One chap was here all day Saturday and returned on Sunday to finish his Olympic rings stitchery. He was so proud of himself. The youngest little sewist was six. He sewed an “X” next to his sister’s “O”.

The 12 people for 5 hours turned into about 60 over 4 days. I got phone calls and emails in the next few days from people saying they’d heard what was going on in my house and could they please come over and stitch a bit on the quilt. It was amazing.

The Sunday was a blast – we whizzed through the piecing in a few hours.

We then spent a good hour debating the arrangement of the squares only to get them all mixed up while stitching them together.

But in the end it looked great!

I worked on the back over the next few days as the last few embroiders came over. Then Krista took it on a retreat with her and got the quilting and binding done.

We managed to get it to Robert before his treatment started. He was so touched by all the heartfelt messages and I think quite blown away by how many people had been a part of it. But as I said to him, it’s because of who he is as a person that inspired everyone to want to rally around him. Who our  friends are says a lot about who we are. He gave me permission to blog this story and his picture with the quilt. He said it might help others in a similar situation. Thanks Rob!  Your amazing attitude is what will get you through this.

If anyone who participated in the quilt is reading this post, I just want to say thank you for coming and being a part of it. It was lovely to meet so many of you, and a privilege to share this experience with you. We are indeed very fortunate to live in a community where we all pull together for each other. Too often we are so busy with our crazy lives, that we forget we are part of a community, a bigger picture. This was a beautiful reminder.

And I end this post with my favourite pic from this project. (The one on the left is my husband wearing my pink specs.) If I didn’t know any better I’d think these two dudes were regular members of a Stitch ‘n Bitch group! Gotta love it.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2011 12:37 pm

    Simply wonderful. What an amazing group effort. I hope his treatment is as successful as your efforts were.

  2. Alison permalink
    November 20, 2011 2:30 pm

    A beautiful summation of an unforgettable event………for an amazing person!!

  3. Susie permalink
    November 20, 2011 7:25 pm

    Oh my goodness. Thank you for sharing that fantastic story. So wonderful, so beautiful and so real. Gorgeous quilt, too!

  4. Ingrid permalink
    November 21, 2011 12:17 am

    I am at a loss for words… what a wunderful experience to see how everybody came together in support of Robert. All this love will carry Robert through his treatments snuggled up in his quilt of love

  5. November 21, 2011 7:41 am

    What a wonderful story of community and caring. The quilt is beautiful. Best wishes for Robert in his treatment.

  6. Eryn permalink
    November 21, 2011 12:55 pm

    When you shared your story with us last Thursday, it brought me to tears. Such a wonderful tribute to how selfless others can be when rallying for someone they care so much about. It touched me especially because my Grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer, a 40 year-old brain tumor the size of a fist and brain cancer in the last three years. She courageously kicked butt on all of them and lives to fight another day. I wish the very best for your friend Robert.

  7. November 21, 2011 3:24 pm

    This is a beautiful story, Berene! What an amazing community effort and the result is gorgeous! I love the photos of everyone’s hands hard at work. I’m sure this quilt will bring Robert comfort as he embarks on his journey.

  8. November 25, 2011 1:04 pm

    Well, I can’t find your email address anywhere so I came over to comment instead! This is such a wonderful post, you have all done such a good job and I’m send Robert all the positive vibes I can muster. Thank goodness he has friends like you guys to help him through this.

  9. May 31, 2012 12:57 pm

    Simply put, WOW! my heart is in my throat right now. So much love 🙂 Incredible, all the way around and back.

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