Deb Wisniewski
Greetings! I'm a connector... I love to help people connect to each other, to share their ideas and to get involved in in their communities. I'm also a Faculty member of the ABCD Institute and a co-founder of ABCD in Action.

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Community Quilting: Building Community One “Square” at a Time

user image 2020-08-18
By: Deb Wisniewski
Posted in: Stories
Community Quilting: Building Community One “Square” at a Time

Community Quilting: Building Community One “Square” at a Time

Washington Island is a small Wisconsin community of about 700 full-time residents located on an island in Lake Michigan. People get involved in this small community in a wide variety of ways. One of the best-known ways is by showing up for the TLC Quilting Group. 

Stop by Trinity Lutheran Church (TLC) on Washington Island on most Tuesday mornings and you’ll find a hive of activity. A group of 6-15 quilters meets each week to make quilts together. Many years ago, the group started meeting to create “comfort quilts”, as well as quilts for Lutheran World Relief. The beautiful “comfort quilts” are shared on the Island with anyone going through a challenging time, such as a hospitalization, a death in the family, a new baby. The sturdy, simpler quilts created for Lutheran World Relief are sent around the world and used for a wide variety of purposes, from bedding to keeping animals warm to creating roofs on rough homes. 

Today’s quilters continue the tradition of creating these quilts but have also added some special quilting projects along the way. Quilts are often made for special causes, such as a silent auction fundraiser for the church’s women’s group, or to raise funds for a local family experiencing financial or health hardships. A more recently added project involves making backpacks, filling them with donated school supplies, and sending them to children around the world through Lutheran World Relief.


Perhaps the most notable, on-going project is the creation of the annual “graduation quilts”. In the early to mid 1990s, one of the quilters, Nancy Thiele, and her husband, Al, participated in a Mission Builders project in the community of McKinley, Wisconsin. During that project, Nancy learned that the church there created quilts as a gift for each graduating student who was a member of their church. Considering that Washington Island has the smallest K-12 school district in the state of Wisconsin – approximately 70-75 students, with 1-6 students graduating in any given year – Nancy returned home and suggested that their quilting group create quilts for every graduating senior in their community. A new tradition was born!

An individualized graduation quilt is created for each specific senior. On the wall of the quilting room is a chalk board, listing the names of the graduates, their favorite colors, favorite themes (e.g., horse lover), and anything else that might personalize their quilt (e.g., his parents have his baby blanket or grandpa’s blue jeans to contribute). Specific quilters are designated to design and organize each quilt, while the actual quilting is done by a mix of members. The presentation of the quilts has become a beloved and highly anticipated part of the graduation celebration. When asked if she was looking forward to graduating, one senior replied that she was really looking forward to seeing her quilt! 


You may be wondering where the money comes from to purchase all the equipment and supplies for these projects. The truth is that almost all of it is donated. They currently have eight sewing machines that have been added to the quilting room. Repairing the machines, creating special quilting tables, building storage shelves, and more are all done by volunteers. The cloth, batting, and even the thread are all donated. Some Tuesdays feel like Christmas when the quilters come to quilt and find bags of donated items sitting in the quilting room!

Since the start of the pandemic, the quilting room is a lot quieter but that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Indeed, all the usual quilts – including the graduation quilts – are still being lovingly created, mostly at the homes of individual quilters who happen to have “an abundance of fabric”.  In addition to the usual quilts, they’ve also taken on the making of masks to help protect people during the COVID pandemic. At last count, approximately 6000 masks have been created. Some of these have been shared with other communities, but masks are made available free of charge to anyone who lives on or visits the Island, through the grocery store and other businesses.

Each year, the quilting group makes around 200 quilts, as well as numerous other projects. The love of quilting pulled this group together. The love of community has led them down this path of creating beautiful quilts, backpacks, and masks that are given away as gifts of the heart.