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Red River Quilters: Wrapped in Love

by laura mcdowell hopper

photos by Leah nash

The majestic Red River rises in the Texas Panhandle and flows through the South, creating Texas’s borders with Oklahoma and Arkansas before winding its way through Louisiana. The river’s beauty is palpable, its calm waters pristine. Based in the Shreveport and Bossier City area, the Red River Quilters are a large guild whose generosity runs as deep as the river for which it is named.

The Red River Quilters have charity quilting down to a fine art and they are eager to share their unique process as a model for other guilds. Their biggest service project is Love Wrappers, a guild initiative that focuses on providing quilts for children and babies, especially those in local neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). By teaching beginner quilting lessons to anyone with an interest and by involving school children in their charity efforts, the Red River Quilters wrap their community in love.

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Beginner lessons, lasting impact

Love Wrappers began when quilter Cathy Ward was asked to start a sewing program called Mission Outreach through the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bossier City. There was a great deal of quiltmaking interest among members of the community and the organizers knew Ward was the woman for the job. But Ward felt that such a sewing program could — and should — do more than teach a few people to quilt. With a focused plan, these lessons could lead to something bigger.

Ward’s idea? Beginner quilters who signed up for Mission Outreach quilting lessons would not have to pay anything but would have to meet one requirement: Their first project had to be a charity quilt donated to a local organization. In order to execute her vision, Ward realized that Mission Outreach could use the help of a larger organization, so she partnered with the Red River Quilters to create Love Wrappers.

The Red River Quilters say that nearly every quilter who receives sewing lessons from them catches the quilting bug and around 85 percent of these new quilters join the guild. “They get one-on-one, hands-on time with somebody walking them through that first experience of making a quilt,” said Marie England who actually joined the Red River Quilters before making her first quilt. “You’re just so proud of it when you’re finished — and you’re hooked.”

The Red River Quilters’ most poignant idea was for these Love Wrappers quilts, bound for sick children and babies, to be made with the help of other children. Each year, nearly 6,000 fourth graders draw a picture or an outline of their hand on a small square of muslin. These colorful drawings are pieced into Love Wrapper quilts, which are then donated to local charities that help other children at a vulnerable time in their early lives.

Small gifts, big love

Cindy Williams, the Red River Quilters’ service projects chair, said that nearly 1,000 quilts have been donated since 2015. Most Love Wrappers quilts go to NICUs in the area. The babies cared for in these specialized hospital units may be premature, injured, withdrawing from drugs, or otherwise dangerously ill. “The staff love that they have the quilts to use,” Ward said, “because the babies are in incubators and […] there’s a lot of stimulation [in the room] that the baby doesn’t need. So they drape the quilts over [the incubators].” Each family in need gets a Love Wrapper, and Ward said the quilts have both an immediate and a lasting impact. “Many of these babies need surgery over and over through the years. […] That’s the quilt that goes to the hospital with them for comfort.”

Guild members make a difference in each other’s lives too. With over 250 members, the Red River Quilters have created smaller sewing bees called “tributaries.” Like the tributaries flowing into and out of the mighty Red River, these smaller quilting groups help build a strong guild. England said, “In a big guild setting, you might not get to know people personally or learn their names. But in a smaller setting, you do. You make your friends.”

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