I bought it for $6.
October 30, 2019 8:38 AM   Subscribe

A few weeks ago, Shannon Downey found an embroidered map of the US at an estate sale, along with hundreds of pieces of an unfinished quilt. Both were the projects of a woman named Rita Smith, who died at age 99. Downey's hobby was to buy uncompleted embroidery projects to finish herself, but this quilt was a massive undertaking. So she reached out on Instagram, and a thousand strangers signed up to help.

Two of the quilt squares had already been completed, so people are using them to try and match Rita's style of embroidery. Within 24 hours, all the pieces had been spoken for. And because Downey, doesn't quilt, there are over 30 Chicago quilters standing by to finish the piece. The plan is for the finished quilt to be donated to a quilting museum. You can follow their progress using #RitasQuilt .

(h/t - Kottke).
posted by Mchelly (19 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
I love this story.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:44 AM on October 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

Humans make me happy (sometimes).
posted by Optamystic at 8:48 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Granny Art for the win! The Instagram is really worth a follow...
posted by jrochest at 8:55 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I hope this ends up at the National Quilting Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. My family has tended to view the 30,000+ quilters who come to town (against 50,000 actual residents) as a plague and we've not thought much more kindly of the related museum. This would be a nice motivator to reconsider the quilters, because this sounds awesome.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:10 AM on October 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hurray for Shannon & everyone who has stepped up.

Also, I need to finish my quilts.
posted by crush at 9:22 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

The National Quilting Museum would be on my bucket list, if I had a bucket list. I get the impression it can be a bit, umm, Rah-rah-America -- or maybe that's just the Quilts of Valour stuff -- but the photos I have seen from there show a truly astonishing array of amazing quilts that I would love to see.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:28 AM on October 30, 2019

wow my MIL would be all over this.
posted by supermedusa at 9:29 AM on October 30, 2019

What a joy. I wish I had known about this earlier; I damn well would have volunteered.

Doesn't mean I'm not going to follow up with her Badass HERstory project.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:38 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I teared up a bit when I saw this, so desperate am I for signs of goodness left in the world.
posted by gwint at 9:44 AM on October 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

I knit and I have a lot of unfinished projects and I feel this hard.

Also - when my parents were cleaning out my grandparents' house, one of the few things I took from it was an unfinished embroidery project of my grandmother's. I don't embroider, but dammit I want to try just so it gets finished.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:05 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

My dad and mom quilted (well mom quilts). Dad had to stop due to macular degen, and he died earlier this month.
Mom is like we have a lot of swatches. Literally length and width wise wall- bins stacked at least 5 feet high, 10+ feet ...

I honestly am afraid what I'll have to do to get rid of it when she passes.

I guess Instagram that shit.
posted by symbioid at 10:50 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Comment at the link: If Ms. Rita started a quilt at 99...you can figure that's the kind of attitude that got her to 99 in the first place. - oldshot192

Other commenters in that thread grew up in a house with the same embroidered map, which made me start poking around (were squares part of a popular kit, or a supermarket give-away, or what), and I tripped over this article at Block Club Chicago which has more details on the Downey's project and Ms. Smith:

The quilt was supposed to fit a queen-sized bed and would feature a map of the United States surrounded by hexagons representing the individual states. Each hexagon would have an outline of the state, the state flower and bird and stitched writing noting when the state entered the union. The quilt was also supposed to feature 50 stars, one for each state, and be bordered in a red, white and blue quote. [...]

Downey was able to connect with Smith’s son, William Smith, who said he was surprised at the attention — but confirmed his mother had been a “monster crafter.” She’d frequently reupholstered furniture and was constantly sewing and stitching. But William Smith suspects his mother hadn’t been able to work on the quilt in 15 or 20 years, as she’d dedicated the last years of her life to caring for her husband. [...]

Downey first thought she’d also have to embroider the map of the United States that goes at the center of the quilt — but she’s realized she can instead use the framed map she bought at Smith’s home. That will be another way she can incorporate Smith’s work into the project and honor her, she said.

“… Now Rita’s hand will be in the center,” Downey said. “Her presence is going to be seen throughout [the quilt], which is really, really neat.”

“We’ve sort of collectively agreed that we’d love for it to go to a quilting museum for their collection so Rita’s work … and the work of all these people can sort of be a testament to community and [how] social media can actually be used for good and how we can come together around something and work together to create something really special out of it,” Downey said.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:04 AM on October 30, 2019 [12 favorites]

Quilts just hold a place in my heart that make me cry, because of the community that goes into so many of them. Just a lovely story, and what a terrific project.
posted by xingcat at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Instagram feed #ritasquilt has been really uplifting to follow.
posted by advicepig at 11:31 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

My mom's oldest sister, who never married or had children, passed away 14 years ago. She and I were both knitters, so I inherited her stash. Although I grew up living across the street from my aunt, my younger cousin (the daughter of my mom's other sister) and our aunt had a much closer bond. Eight years ago, my cousin was pregnant for the first time, with a daughter whose middle name was going to be the same as our aunt's. Even though I hadn't even touched the yarn stash in the previous six years, something clicked in my brain. Our aunt had been knitting a baby blanket when she had unexpectedly passed, and it was sitting on the needles in my office closet. I finished it and gave it to my cousin for Christmas. I love giving gifts, and I pride myself on my ability to give thoughtful gifts, but this was really something else. The blanket wasn't my gift. My gift was couriering the gift from our aunt and it was one of the most gratifying things I've ever done.
posted by Ruki at 2:32 PM on October 30, 2019 [12 favorites]

this is wonderful - I've been involved in two similar collaborative textile art projects and it's an amazing feeling to be making something like this.

The same artist has started an EVEN LARGER collaborative art project: Badass Herstory

also embroidery stitch tutorials! (I have so much to learn).
posted by jb at 2:39 PM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

It really ties the world together.
posted by ouke at 3:06 PM on October 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Shit. I've got and intarsia Xmas angel project up in my closet that my dad was working on when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in ‘93. I helped him cut out the last couple of pieces before he died but have never had the motivation to finish off all the shaping and fitting. My mum will be 82 in a few month - I better get on it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:22 PM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've got a disassembled pair of turned wood rocking chairs that originally graced the veranda of my great grandmother's lake house. They moved in that state five times with my parents and now three times with me. They need repair and every piece needs to be sanded to bare wood. Which I've slowly been doing but here's hoping I get it done before my daughter has to do the final assembly.
posted by Mitheral at 7:08 PM on November 1, 2019

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