Guild gives ‘warm hugs’ to sick kids

Over the past 20 years, the Block Party Quilters guild has made more than 3,500 quilts for patients staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle.

Over the past 20 years, the Block Party Quilters guild has made more than 3,500 quilts for patients staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle.

The project began in 1988 when one of the guild’s founders, Gretchen Waham, had a child who was ill and being treated at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

“The group had wanted to develop some kind of a community service project, and this seemed to be just the right thing to do,” said Linda Hunnell, a Bellevue resident who is the chair of the guild’s quilt project committee. “Quilters could do their very favorite thing, and give ‘warm hugs’ to kids.”

Waham passed away a few months ago, but the service project she helped form is going strong. Now not only does each patient receive a quilt, but each sibling staying at the house also is allowed to choose a quilt.

“The kids and their families really light up when they see these quilts,” said Wayne Wurzer, spokesman for Ronald McDonald House in Seattle. “The children and parents who stay with us are at a very fragile time in their lives, with a lot of uncertainty.”

“One of our main goals is to provide comfort and warmth. These quilts really epitomize us trying to do that, and they’re also a perfect example of the fact that we couldn’t do what we do without help from the community.”

The Block Party Quilters guild meets once a month at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Sammamish. Its 165 members range in age from young daughters of guild members to women in their 90s, and come from Sammamish, Issaquah, North Bend, Redmond and many cities throughout the Eastside. A few also come from Seattle and from as far away as Snohomish. Last year, the guild donated 406

quilts to the Ronald McDonald House, and members hope to exceed that number this year.

“A few weeks ago, my family and I spent several nights at the Ronald McDonald House at Seattle Children’s Hospital,” a mother from Idaho wrote in a thank you note to the guild. “While we were at the house, my son … received a beautiful handmade blanket from your oranization. I wanted to thank you not only for the special blanket, but also for making a tough time a little easier.”

The mother told guild members how her 7-year-old son was born with spina bifida and had undergone more than 20 surgeries at UCLA and faced the likelihood of further surgeries in Seattle.

“Your blanket means the world to him and to our family,” the mother wrote. “Thank you again for your caring heart.”

Each year at the guild’s quilt show, members offer a “Kids Korner,” where children (and adults) who attend the show are invited to decorate premade quilt blocks that will be sewn together into quilts for Ronald McDonald House. During last year’s three-day show, enough blocks were decorated that guild members were able to piece together 43 quilts.

This year’s show, “Spring on the Block,” is April 11-13 at the Issaquah Community Center.

Quilt show chair and Sammamish resident Lisa Jenni first joined the guild after attending the quilt show in 2002. She said she fell in love with quilting as an art form.

“I was a painter before. Now instead of paint, I use fabric,” said Jenni, noting that she loves playing with shape, color and the construction of quilts, both while designing them and when sewing the final piece. She now keeps a sketchbook for ideas when she travels and takes photographs to capture scenes or other elements she would like to reproduce in a quilt. “I get inspiration from everywhere.”

Sammamish resident and quilter Carol Paschal will be the featured artist at the show.

Paschal joined the guild in 1999, but has loved sewing and everything to do with fabric for as long as she can remember.

“When I wasn’t making clothes anymore, I decided I still had to buy fabric,” Paschal said. “I decided to take up quilting because I could still do the things I love.”

She was always interested in fashion design, and said she enjoys using traditional blocks to quilt in a more modern method, often a design that is appliqued on top of the quilt blocks.

“I think my favorite quilt is always my most current one, the one I’ve just finished. They always feel like my babies,” Paschal said.

Donating quilts to the Ronald McDonald House has been a wonderful opportunity to improve her skills and try out different techniques, she said.

Bellevue resident Barbara McGill, the group’s historian and a past president, said she’ll always remember a visit she and some other members made to the Ronald McDonald House to drop of a new batch of quilts.

“I had my turban on — I was going through chemo at the time — and I heard a little 4-year-old in pink asking a question and a staff member saying, ‘You can’t assume, we have to ask,’” McGill recalled.

The young patient and staff member asked McGill whether they could ask her a personal question, and when she said they could, the little girl asked whether she had hair under her turban.

“We were taken to a chair and she just started asking questions,” McGill said. “Here was an adult going through the same thing that she was going through.”

The two sat together and talked for a half an hour or so, bonding over their common experiences. While the guild members don’t have as much direct contact with the patients anymore, McGill said she will always remember talking with that young patient.

The guild sometimes receives thank you notes from the children themselves.

Here’s what one girl carefully printed in pencil on lined paper, accompanied by a drawing: “Thank you for the quilt. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House because my baby brother is sick. He got a quilt, too. We live in Montana. I am 5.”

A mother from Oak Harbor whose son had surgery at Children’s wrote to say, “We were so happy to receive such a wonderful gift! The quilt came to the hospital the day of the surgery. We appreciate all your hard work, and we will cherish the quilt.”

Wendy Giroux can be reached at or 391-0363, ext. 5050.

If you go

Block Party Quilters annual quilt show

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 11 and 12; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 13 at the Issaquah Community Center, at First Avenue South and Southeast Bush Street.

Suggested donation for admission is $5; kids are free.

More than 250 quilts will be on display

Vendors, demonstrations, a tea room and door prizes and more.