Southern Manitoba quilters offer warm welcome to Ukrainian refugees

Dozens of volunteers in southern Manitoba have been coming together, snipping and sewing scraps of fabric to create colourful quilts for Ukrainian refugees arriving in the province.

In just six days last month, a group of mostly retired women from Carman, Man., and surrounding communities joined forces to produce 130 quilts and afghans. 

“Many hands make light work. I put a call out on Facebook, calling all quilters. And I got the response beyond belief,” organizer Maureen Carr said.

“There’ll be about six to twelve women going with the sewing machines on one side.”

Carr has had 15-20 volunteers show up at each quilting session, while others have pitched in ironing, tying and “sandwiching” layers of cloth into blankets.

Carr said she was watching a news story a few weeks ago about the war in Ukraine and felt compelled to help. She phoned the local legion, which immediately offered her use of the hall two days a week.

Quilters and non-quilters alike quickly jumped in to help.

“Anyone who wants to come and help, you’re more than welcome,” Carr said. “If you don’t quilt or sew at all, we can get you sewing if you really want to,” she added with a chuckle.

Each quilt will be given to a refugee fleeing the war in Ukraine. The volunteers made them in a range of patterns, colours and sizes, from baby blankets to queen-size blankets. Carr said the group wants each individual to get their own, rather than giving out just one per family.

“They have nothing. These will be something that belongs to them,” Carr said. “If they’re just watching TV or reading a book, they’ve got this quilt to put around them, and be comforted that someone does care.”

Carr and the volunteers put the quilts on display Saturday at the Carman Active Living Centre. A steady stream of people came through, carefully examining and admiring their handiwork. A donation jar at the door quickly filled up with $20 bills, some of which will go toward recouping the cost of materials, with the rest going to the newcomers from Ukraine.

Nancy Knox and her daughter Heather Turner made the drive from Miami, Man., to admire the quilts on display at the Carman Active Living Centre on Saturday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Nancy Knox and her daughter Heather Turner made the nearly 35-kilometre drive from Miami, Man., to see the quilts.

“They’ve done a lot of work, beautiful work,” Knox said. “We’re lucky to have so many talented people in our area.”

Turner agreed, adding quilting is “a pile of work,” in this case, for a good cause.

“So much comfort that comes in a gift like that, all the love that’s been put into it,” she said.

The seamstresses included a message on the flip side of every quilt: a little heart-shaped patch that reads “Welcome to Canada. We care.”

The seamstresses included a message on the flip side of every quilt to offer comfort to refugees coming to Manitoba from Ukraine. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Carr said figuring out how to get the quilts into the hands of refugees was a bit of a challenge. They’ve recently been in touch with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’ branch in Winnipeg, which will alert them when it hears of new arrivals.

“We’ll be getting people who are going to Winnipeg with empty vehicles to stop at my place, and I’ll fill them up,” Carr said with a laugh, adding some of their couriers include a Ukrainian Orthodox priest who holds services in the Carman area twice a month, as well as hockey fans heading to Jets games.   

“I’m awestruck by the way the community works together here,” said Nigel Bart, an artist who looks after the gallery at the Golden Prairie Arts Council in Carman.

“There’s this hive intelligence. They’re really in tune.”

Nigel Bart from the Golden Prairie Arts Council in Carman feels awestruck by the way the community came together to make quilts for people fleeing the war in Ukraine. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

A former Winnipegger, Bart moved to the small town a year ago, and volunteered to put together Saturday’s quilt show.

“Quilts are immensely symbolic,” said Bart, a sculptor who works in a range of mediums, and admires the quilters’ work. “You’re sewing patches, different fabrics together. This is what multiculturalism here in Canada is about.”

The quilting group will meet every Monday and Tuesday in April at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 18 in Carman. Donations of cash and fabric are accepted, and everyone is welcome to pitch in.

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