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Joy Edgington at Project Linus
Quilting is a good addiction!
Handmade quilts for sick children and a home for orphaned scraps of fabric- Joy Edgington explains how Project Linus has taken over her life.
In the spare room of her house in Warstock, Joy Edgington is surrounded by drawers bursting with vibrant fabrics, spools of thread and patchwork blocks. “My workroom isn’t always this tidy," she jokes, “I cleared it up because I knew you were coming!”
As her cats- Smokey and The Bandit- vie for attention beneath our feet, she burrows through piles of unfinished quilts, each one of which has a story.
Joy works full time, she’s a wife, a mother, and at just 52 is grandmother to four. Since taking a course in patchwork a few years ago, her already full routine has become even busier. “Be careful,” she tells me, “quilting is an addiction!”
The patchwork course was just the start for Joy. When she found she had no more room for her work at home, she began searching for a new outlet for the skills she had acquired.
She stumbled across Project Linus UK, and is now the Regional Coordinator for the West Midlands. “I don’t know if it’s the quilting, but something definitely keeps me young!” Joy surveys her colourful workroom and sighs, “I’ve got a normal life, so I have to fit in shopping and ironing around all this.”
What is Project Linus?
Project Linus began in the USA in 1995, when a keen quilter called Karen Loucks read an article about three year old Laura from California, who had undergone more than two years of intensive chemotherapy.
Drawers full of orphan blocks
According to her father, Laura’s survival through this traumatic experience had been partly down to her comfort blanket, which he carried with her everywhere.
Inspired by this, Karen began making security blankets for the Rocky Mountains Children’s Cancer Center in Denver, Colorado, and Project Linus was born. It took its name from a character in US comic strip Peanuts, who famously clung to his security blanket in every scene.
Linus comes to the UK
Now the charity runs chapters throughout the USA, and eight years ago, it spread across the Atlantic to our shores.
Each quilt is unique
Since the UK branch of Project Linus was founded in 2000, its volunteer quilters have delivered over 81,000 patchwork quilts and knitted or crocheted blankets to sick and traumatised babies, children and teenagers. The charity’s philosophy is simple:
“We cannot reach out to every distressed child, but we can help to provide them with tangible evidence that someone cares, along with the physical reassurance that comes with being snuggled up in a quilt, and the lift to the spirit from the bright colours and cheerful patterns sewn into it.”
Everyone's a winner!
As Joy explains, Project Linus doesn’t just benefit the children who receive the donated blankets: “There are only so many quilts you can make for yourself!”
Amish style star quilt
This is a common problem among quilters- once an enthusiast has perfected their technique, filled their house with beautiful handmade quilts, and given them as presents to friends and family, it can be hard to find a welcoming home for further creations.
Various quilting groups across the West Midlands have found that Project Linus is the perfect recipient for their work. Encouraged by Joy, groups from Shirley, Cotteridge, Solihull, Worcester, Droitwich and Redditch stitch beautiful quilts by hand or machine.
Joy then collects them together in her workroom, and distributes them to organisations across the region, like Acorns Hospice, Edwards Trust, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, Barnardos, a teenage unit in Moseley, and Charles House. They are then washed to sterilise them, and given to children as a comforting, cheerful keepsake to make their stay away from home more bearable.
Picasso and quilting
Joy's husband, who was involved in a motorbike accident three years ago, jumped at the chance to help her make deliveries, as soon as he could ride his bike again. When he’s not helping her, Joy explains that he’s very patient about how Project Linus has taken over her life.
The raw materials
“We have many sayings in the quilting world, but there’s one that I keep close to hand because the only thing my lovely husband does moan about is me not turning his trousers up.”
A small slip of paper she keeps on her desk reads, “Asking a quilter to mend is like asking Picasso to paint your garage!”
Go it alone
Although the majority of Joy’s quilts come from quilting groups, you don’t have to join a group to get involved: “There are various individuals too- Doreen from Droitwich regularly phones up saying she’s got about 20 quilts for me! She just makes loads and loads!”
At the moment, there are over 40 quilts carefully folded up in the corner of Joy’s workroom. As she unpacks them all, their intricacy becomes apparent, and it’s obvious that hours of thought, planning and hard work have gone into each one.
Animal quilt made from orphan blocks
All patchwork quilts are formed around the same basic model. Carefully measured pieces of fabric are sewn together into square ‘blocks’, which are then built up into a larger design. This is then attached to a single back piece and wadding to form a cozy quilt when it is turned the right way out.
Works of art
The largest quilts can take weeks to complete, not least because of all the preparation involved. Some of the most beautiful quilts, however, are the tiny ones made for neo-natal units.
At just half a metre across, if that, they are designed to comfort the smallest babies in their first few days of existence. One particularly gorgeous design features a pink and cream butterfly with patterned wings.
Joy’s work with neo-natal units has recently inspired a new project. Premature babies benefit from baby nests, which are designed to support their bodies and keep them warm, as even the smallest cots can seem enormous to a newborn child.
Neo-natal baby nests
As Joy explains, these nests were proving prohibitively expensive: “When our neo-natal contact came to talk to a group that I run, she showed us these little baby nests, which cost about £37 each to buy.” She holds up a couple of prototype Project Linus baby nests, “I worked out a pattern and as a group we made a dozen nests to see if they are alright to use.”
"A great big thank you!"
So what kind of reaction do Project Linus’ donations elicit? The folders bursting with thank you letters, drawings and photographs that Joy has received are testament to the charity’s success. She pulls out one letter from eleven year old Laura at Heartlands Hospital:
“Thank you for the quilt, it is lovely and comfortable. It must be very tiring to stitch and sew things together, it will go lovely in my bedroom and I promise to take care of it because of all the hard work you have put in to making it. Please accept a great big thank you from me!”
Joy explains that Laura’s letter is typical of the responses Project Linus’ donated quilts receive. Some of the younger children draw pictures to say thank you, or send in their tiny handprints.
Joy's quilt collection awaits delivery
'A Trip to Blackpool'
Joy’s involvement with Edward’s Trust has gone a little further than donating blankets. The centre was set up in 1989 to provide accommodation for families whilst their child received treatment for cancer or leukaemia at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. As Joy explains, the centre becomes a necessary home-from-home:
“It’s one of the UK’s specialist units, so people come from all over the place, from Scotland to Cornwall and anywhere in between. Sometimes the parents and families are there for months on end.”
Edwards Trust set up a Therapy Room where parents staying at the centre can chill out, have a head massage and talk to a counsellor. The trust asked Joy to make them a quilt to hang on the wall in the room, to brighten it up, and remind anxious parents of happier times. Joy’s quilt, entitled 'A Trip to Blackpool', was gratefully received.
Just in case Joy’s postman was not weighted down enough by the hundreds of quilts she takes delivery of, Joy has also set up a block orphanage.
An orphan block
Sometimes a quilter decides that a quilt block they’ve made is not good enough to go into a finished quilt, or doesn’t fit in with the design. These rejected scraps of fabric are called ‘orphan blocks’, and on their own they don’t amount to much.
Joy decided to collect these orphan blocks together, and make them up into quilts herself, with the help of other quilters. In its first few months of existence, her block orphanage has received over 1500 blocks, which explains her drawers full of fabric.
Unique and meaningful
Joy shows me photos of how the orphan blocks arrive, and then the quilts that have been made out of them. The final quilts, put together from sad, frayed orphan blocks saved from the scrap heap, are very poignant.
They combine the work of many different quilters from across the UK, many of whom remain anonymous, to make something unique and meaningful, which will go to a loving home.
A handmade quilt for Project Linus
One story that Joys tells really encapsulates the significance of the work Project Linus does. A mother and her nine year old son were being housed in a homeless shelter that she works with. Offered the choice of two quilts, the boy said that, even though they were very beautiful, he couldn’t accept either one. When asked why, he replied, “because my mummy can’t pay for it.”
Joy is obviously moved by this, even now: “It took the boy and his mother a long time to be convinced that nobody had to pay, and the quilt was a gift. The boy just didn’t understand that because of the life he had led.”
Each year, Project Linus UK is given a free stall at the NEC’s Festival of Quilts. They ask quilters to donate a block to their cause, and next year’s theme is Sky and Stars, so get quilting now if you want to take part!
For more information on Project Linus UK, and to find your nearest Regional Coordinator, click on the link below.
last updated: 28/10/2008 at 15:29