Quilting comfort for Whidbey General patients

Clockwise from  top left, Island Fabrics owner Judy Martin and MAC Challenge quilters Sarah Kleparek, Sharyn Mellors, MAC nurse Renee Yanke and quilter Marcia Wiley. - Cynthia Woolbright
Clockwise from top left, Island Fabrics owner Judy Martin and MAC Challenge quilters Sarah Kleparek, Sharyn Mellors, MAC nurse Renee Yanke and quilter Marcia Wiley.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Each stitch is crafted with love.

Each square is a patterned piece of hope.

When comfort is needed for cancer patients receiving treatment at Whidbey General Hospital’s Medical Ambulatory Care and Oncology unit, they know it will be there.

Because of some thoughtful stitching by Whidbey Island quilters, the patients know where they can always find a hug. And while it’s hard to imagine a quilt hugging back, that is just what can be seen at the Whidbey General MAC unit where bonds and lives grow stronger through the comforting touch of soft cloth and the generosity of sewing strangers.

Each year the MAC unit receives hand-made quilts from members of quilting groups like the Coupevile-based Quilters on the Rock, as well as churches, service organizations and individuals. A major contributor of those individually quilted hugs of love are customers of Island Fabrics, a Freeland shop that encourages people to create individual size quilts for patients during its annual MAC Challenge quilting contest.

“We want to get involved in the community and let people know they are loved,” said Island Fabrics owner Judy Martin, whose MAC Challenge contest is in its second year.

Contributing quilted care to the MAC unit is something Martin has been passionate about since she lost her mother to breast cancer.

“She didn’t have the support,” Martin said. “We’re helping change that for others.”

Martin’s passion has increasingly grown. For seven years Island Fabrics staff organized the creation of a raffle quilt to benefit the unit, and within the last two years the fabric shop challenged customers to use their skill for a good cause.

This year’s contest will bring 24 quilts crafted by 23 quilters to the MAC unit. The number of quilts is an increase from last year and it appears the project will continue to grow, Martin said.

“Each year the quilts are simply extraordinary,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that people are this willing to be involved.”

It is the second year that Sharyn Mellors of Coupeville claimed top honors in the contest. This year, her quilt titled “Hudson Butterflies” placed first with its dozens of hand-sewn butterflies and design of a girl holding a banner reading “hugs” in front of a beaming background and swirling butterflies.

Last year’s winning quilt was only Mellor’s third quilt she pieced together and when talking about the contest and the quilts, her eyes were at a constant swell.

She lost four family members to cancer in 2000. Every stitch is for those lost loved ones.

“Most everyone I know can now say they’ve been touched by cancer,” Mellors said.

For seven years previous to the MAC Challenge, Island Fabrics organized the sewing of a quilt that annually was raffled to raise funds for the MAC unit.

But the raffle didn’t have the personal touch Martin wanted. The individual quilts were found to have more impact on patients, according to Island Fabrics employee Beth Whitman.

MAC unit supervising nurse Renee Yanke has done some quilting of her own, so she knows the work involved. But as a person who works daily with local cancer patients, she can appreciate the hard work from a different perspective.

“What they are doing really reinforces how much work, love and commitment goes into caring for these patients,” Yanke said.

Marcia Wiley, who placed third, couldn’t have enjoyed giving her first quilt away more.

“Giving it to the hospital meant so much,” Wiley said.

Wiley was content and happy about giving away her first quilt as she talked to Yanke Wednesday afternoon. She was happy to follow a tradition held by her friends who are members of the Lummi tribe who believe a person should give away their first item created in a new craft.

The quilters themselves — such as third-place winner Sarah Kleparek of Freeland who’s entry is also her first quilt — find comfort in knowing they are issuing a caring ticket, a cozy hug.

When patients are presented a quilt, it’s often an emotional experience Yanke said.

“They truly appreciate it and often can’t believe it,” she said. “They’re amazed they get to pick one and that they get to call it their own.”

And each patient who receives a quilt often writes “Thank You’s” to Island Fabrics and the quiltmakers. Martin has saved every one.

“This is my way of paying forward the blessings that were directed my way,” Martin said. “This is the least we can do.”

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