One of the most famous quotes of Saint Teresa of Avila from the 1500s says, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless men now.”
That is a philosophy which has been much in evidence across the country recently with the selfless responses of so many during a spate of natural disasters— people risking themselves and investing their time in helping others.
That is also the philosophy followed by the local Sassy Stitchers organization which is devoted to keeping those in need warm by making and donating handmade quilts— in essence, becoming the hands of God through their sewing.
The Sassy Stitchers, headquartered in a shop on Pollard Street in Vinton, make hundreds of quilts each year to donate to those in need– both locally and for crisis situations throughout the country.
The group originated with Bonnie McKee, who enjoyed quilting and often gave the quilts away to the needy. A couple of friends with the same interest joined her and the group has now snowballed to include Sheila, Mary, Shorty, and Martha, who do their sewing at the shop; Louise, Alice, and Carol, who work at home and at the shop; and Pat, Joyce, Elnora, Marilyn, Lucy, and Jill, who mainly work from home and bring in quilt tops to be backed, bound, tied, and distributed. Quilters at Gravel Hill Baptist assist with the mission by tacking quilts when needed.
The quilters started out in the recreation room at A. Porter’s Haven senior community in Vinton, then moved to the Presbyterian Community Center in southeast Roanoke, and then in March moved to a larger space on Pollard Street in Vinton.
The Busy Bees quilting group from Riverdale Baptist Church got them set up and started in their quilting mission, giving them their first sewing machine and fabric. The two groups still share fabric back and forth depending upon their needs.
The Sassy Stitchers work Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. making hundreds of twin- and lap robe-size quilts. Last year they produced 1,012 quilts; they are ahead of their record with over 1,000 sewn and donated already in 2017. Those quilts have gone to hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, the Rescue Mission, the Blue Ridge Cancer Center, pediatric cancer patients at Carilion Clinic Children’s Hospital, the Salvation Army, disabled veterans, Carrington Place, and the New Horizon battered women’s shelter in Lexington.
They donated 180 just to Berkshire Health and Rehabilitation Center in Vinton. When they were located at the Presbyterian Community Center, they sewed a quilt for each child in the after-school program as a Christmas gift.
They have made special “fidget” quilts for the restless hands of Alzheimer’s patients, which provide sensory stimulation through use of fabrics choices, colors, textures, and accessories like trims, beads, buttons, and ribbons.
The women donate quilts to groups such as the Crimora Players who use them for fundraising projects of their own. The Crimora Players theatre group, located near Waynesboro, produces plays periodically to raise funds for individuals who come to their attention because of their illnesses.
Each month the quilters make a quilt for Living Water Baptist Church on Vale Avenue in Vinton. The church provides the Sassy Stitchers their only consistent funding by hosting an open mic program on the first Saturday each month with the love offering donated to the Sassy Stitchers.
Most recently they sewed and donated 65 quilts to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, which were delivered to Texas through the efforts of Pre-Teen Miss Virginia Emily Southern and God’s Pit Crew.
Southern, who is 11 years old and from Rocky Mount, learned to sew and quilt with the Sassy Stitchers as part of her volunteer and community service requirements that come with her title.
Last year the group made quilts for the victims of the devastating floods in West Virginia. Sassy Stitchers donated 40 quilts to First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Roanoke, along with sheet sets, pillows, donated mattress pads, and sewing kits for North Carolina flood victims, a project coordinated by Pete Guillard, Director of Youth.
They plan to assist those in Florida who have been displaced by Hurricane Irma.
Currently their No. 1 priority is completing quilts for each pediatric patient who leaves Martinsville Hospital, which serves a poverty-stricken area.
The Sassy Stitchers operate on donations of fabric and supplies, which they frequently receive from quilters or seamstresses cleaning out their sewing supplies or downsizing, or from families who have lost a loved one who was a crafter. They have been gifted with many sewing machines since that first one from the Busy Bees.
The quilters say that the secret to the longevity of their quilts (which are subject to wear and frequent laundering) is zigzag stitching. They do not use batting, which shortens the life of quilts washed often. They hand tie or tack their quilts in the interest of time, rather than quilting more elaborately.
They don’t waste anything. Scraps of leftover material are turned into pillows, some of which go to day care centers.
They gratefully accept donations of pants hem leftovers on palettes from Orvis through the Rescue Mission, which are turned into very warm quilts because of the durable fabric.
They also receive donations of sheets and towels from 16 different hotel chains, some local, which they pair up with quilts being sent to flood victims.
The ladies say that any time there has been a need, God has opened up opportunities for them and even amplified their efforts.
Their mission and reputation have spread by word of mouth. McKee said, “People hear about us and donate.”
Emily Southern’s family has donated a washer/dryer and refrigerator to the shop as well as the window décor.
They rent the Sassy Stitchers space from Mike Worley, who McKee says, “has been very helpful to the group.”
The Sassy Stitchers describe themselves as a “group of Christian senior citizens doing a great charity work for God in the Roanoke Valley.”
What the Sassy Stitchers need from the community is monetary donations, donations of “anything to do with sewing,” and volunteers. Even if you don’t sew, they need individuals to wash and fold fabric, but they are delighted to teach anyone how to sew and quilt. While God’s Pit Crew delivers quilts to flood victims, the ladies themselves deliver the quilts locally and as far as Waynesboro and Lexington. They would welcome help in transporting completed quilts.
They would especially like to attract interest from a motorcycle group interested in sponsoring a ride to raise funds for Sassy Stitchers. The ladies have put together several unique motorcycle-themed quilts, one pieced with Harley Davidson T-shirts which motorcycle groups might be interested in auctioning off as a fundraiser.
Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church on Hardy Road in Vinton is hosting a gospel sing as a fundraiser for the Sassy Stitchers on October 14 beginning at 2 p.m. There is no charge for admission, but a love offering will be collected. The Showers of Blessing group will be featured along with several other well-known gospel groups. They are still inviting guest artists interested in participating to join the program.
Information on the Sassy Stitchers and their projects, as well as how to volunteer and donate may be obtained by calling Bonnie McKee at 540-570-0360.