In our elementary school community, we have a young
person who was diagnosed with a rare cancer this
fall. His mother is a teacher at our school, and we
wanted to find a way to reach out, to support this
When someone is ill, seriously ill, there is so little
we can do to help, especially when you aren't a close
enough relation to lend a direct hand.
The farther we are from the person who is unwell,
the more difficult it can be to find something that
feels helpful. While the first round of loved ones are
in a fury of activity doing what needs doing, and the
second layer of friends and family are supporting those
doing the hardest work, there is a larger community
of people who want to lend support. So, some mothers
and I worked with the students of the teacher/Momma
to create handmade gifts to remind the entire family
that they are not alone and that they are supported.
This stuffy was made for the sister of the boy who is
ill. We thought she might need a fellow who is perfect
for hugging. He has a cape, with her brother's initial
on it. This "S" in shield was a theme we carried through
all of the gifts. The children of the class signed the
lining of the cape, to lend their support.
This messenger bag was made for our teacher. She's
taken a leave so she can be with her son during his
treatments, and we wanted her to have something
helpful, that she could carry with her. The exterior
is a pinstriped wool, to suit her own sleek style,
with the "S" so her son is with her.
The interior is decorated by the traced hands of her
class. The hand of each student was traced, and
then signed by the student. Our hope was that when
she looks into the bag, she will see some of the hands
that support her.
For the Dad in the family, we made a lunch tote along
similar lines as the messenger bag. The interior
is lined with traced hands, but the exterior is a drab
green canvas embellished with the hero "S".
One of the Moms at school donated a new travel mug to
go in the bag. The Dad is having to continue to work
through this time. We wanted him to feel supported
as well, as he goes out into the world.
Our big project was for the boy himself. We wanted to
make him a small quilt he could take to his treatments.
We wanted to make it functional, easy to wash,
bright and colorful, as well as entertaining.
This boys loves superheroes, so we made him a cape
shaped quilt (as I told the kids, not all quilts have to be
rectangles!). The top is narrow and the bottom wide.
I made a big version of the Super "S" to accent the soft
red flannel of the backing.
The pieced side of the quilt is an "I Spy" quilt.
I hunted through my trove of scraps and cut hundreds
of 4" squares. I tried for a wide range of colors, themes,
and shapes, so that as the family spends time in
treatment they can continually find new things. You
can play a matching game with the quilt, or I Spy.
"I spy, with my little eye a cheeky pirate monkey!"
or "How many banana blocks can you find?"
To make this quilt, I asked a Mom helper to make a
life size pattern. She drew out a large grid with 3 1/2"
squares on it (the finished size for the blocks) on
pattern making paper. I drew out the lines of the quilt
top, and then had each child choose 4 fabric squares
from the mountain of precut squares. They then laid
their squares exactly where they wanted them on the
quilt. My only instruction was not to place two identical
fabrics next to each other. Volunteer moms pinned
the squares in place. We added special squares that
were signed by the students. After the children had
finished, I asked the Mom's to take a turn filling
in spaces. They really enjoyed the process of finding
underused fabrics, and making fun placements. I
followed this pattern precisely when sewing up the
top. An assembly line of Mommas helped me sew
the top, and then to assemble the quilt.
The children were so intent, so focused on this project.
They remembered me from last year's quilt project,
so there was no "get to know you" period. We just got
There was a funny moment, at the beginning of our
class time, when I was describing the 4 projects to
the class. I mentioned the mini cape they would be
decorating for the monster stuffy, and a boy raised
his hand. "What will the stuffy look like?" he asked.
"Well, it will be a friendly monster, with lime green
shaggy fur, long arms, and big green googily eyes."
As I spoke, his eyes got bigger and bigger.
"Really??!" he asked.
"Have I ever lied to you?" I responded.
With big, solemn eyes, he said. "No."
"Is that going to work?" I asked him.
He nodded vigorously.
On Friday, I brought the finished items in to show
the class. They were very excited to see how
everything had turned out. Tomorrow, the gifts will
be given to our family. I know that quilts and
stuffies won't make this boy well, but it's what we
can do. Some days, all that you can do is show
that you care, and to send your very best wishes.