On an early April morning in 2019, not long after the sun rose, Lorraine McGregor went to see her mother’s body.
McGregor found Evelyn Murray in a Castlegar nursing home where she had passed away in the night. She expected to see Evelyn, but was surprised to discover one of her quilts draped over her mother by the staff.
“It was a very peaceful thing,” says McGregor. “She just looked like she was sleeping under the quilt that I made for her.”
McGregor has been making quilts for nearly half her life. She started quilting on her own in 1985, and for the last 20 years has been part of a local group whose quilts are sent around the world.
The Romanian Quilters, as McGregor, Betty Millar, Shirley Johnson, Sandy St. Denis, Ina Infeld and Catherine Filbert are called for the quilts they’ve sent to Romanian orphanages, meet once a week during the school year at the First Baptist Church where they can make a finished product in two to three hours.
While other members also practise knitting or sewing, McGregor is a quilt loyalist.
Her grandmother quilted, although she never saw her work because the door to the sewing room would always close to children during visits. McGregor once sewed clothes for herself and her children.
“But once I started quilting I never sewed another pair of pyjamas,” she says. “And they’re not award-winning quilts. They’re made to please me and they’re made to keep people warm.”
McGregor estimates she has made 70 to 80 bed-sized quilts, each one of which can take her two months to a year to complete.
That’s because quilting requires commitment. Quilts are fabric jigsaw puzzles, painstakingly put together, meant to be used by generations as keepsakes, memories, an embrace from the past.
If McGregor ever saw one of her quilts in a thrift store, she said, she would be mortified. Her favourite quilt, which she made in the late 1980s or early 1990s, remains in perfect condition.
“Somebody told me never put yellow on white because the yellow won’t show up. I did it anyway. And I love that quilt. It’s on my bed right now.”
Last year Nelson Jubilee Manor contacted the Romanian Quilters with a request they hadn’t heard before. The longterm seniors care facility wanted an honour quilt.
Rose Anderson, activities co-ordinator at Nelson Jubilee, said staff had been considering what more they could do for palliative patients.
One of their initiatives is what they call the pal cart, a small trolley provided to families staying with patients in their final moments. The trolley has items such as candles, a tea kettle, toothpaste, blankets, a CD with calming music — whatever they think will relieve grief.
Anderson said she got the idea for the quilt after reading about a facility in America that does an honour guard whenever a patient leaves. A quilt draped over a patient who has passed away, she reasoned, might add some dignity to their death.
“We just thought that would be a really nice symbol to acknowledge our residents,” says Anderson.
Anderson reached out to her former neighbour, McGregor, who remembered how she felt seeing a quilt covering her mother and was enthusiastic about the project.
After some consideration the Romanian Quilters used design blocks made Audrey Stevenson, another local quilter who passed away in 2018. McGregor wanted a quilt that was calm, no bright colours, and settled on a blue and white theme.
The quilt was completed in June. Soon it will be taken to Nelson Jubilee Manor, where it will provide one final comfort to people who lived, loved and passed away.
“It’s going to be such a beautiful surprise when we see it,” said Anderson.
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