CEDAR RAPIDS — It started off as a hobby.
Like many young women in the 1950s and early ’60s, Kathy Griffith, 71, learned to sew while attending high school. At that time, she said, it was a practical skill she could employ in her daily life, whether mending something, making clothes for her daughter or sewing curtains for her sister.
“In high school I had a wonderful sewing teacher,” she said. “She was very encouraging. And so, at that time I was making clothes and blazers, and then when I had my daughter I made her clothes for her.”
But today, one could safely classify Griffith’s sewing hobby as more of a passion — one that has resulted in her donating roughly 60 quilts each year to local elementary school students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Last week, Griffith, who said she keeps meticulous records, completed her 300th quilt.
The first thing Griffith said she remembers making on her own was a navy blue blazer that she wore for a “style show” during her senior year of high school.
“I just loved it, you know,” she said. “It fit me perfectly and I thought it looked perfect, and I guess you could say I felt a sense of accomplishment.”
At that time, Griffith said it was more cost-effective to make clothes than buy them, and she liked that she could put unique personal touches on the pieces she made.
“I made all my baby clothes, and I made my daughter’s clothes, and I made her prom dresses, and it just kind of evolved from there,” she said.
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Griffith said she was also able to drum up some business doing alterations and custom orders for clients, and at one point she taught some sewing classes at Kirkwood Community College.
But eventually, the Waterloo native said she reached a point where she “just wanted to be able to do my own stuff.”
And for Griffith, that meant quilting.
For a while, Griffith said she got involved with Comfort Makers, a quilting group at First Lutheran Church that makes quilts for world relief projects in impoverished places around the world. But she still had a hankering to do something different — something that was all her own.
That’s when she got the idea to donate quilts to two local schools — namely Van Buren and Hoover elementary schools. Griffith said she chose those schools because they had the most children participating in the free lunch program in the district.
“The members of the Comfort Makers group had been talking about how they could do more outreach, and that’s when it came to me,” she said. “I used to tutor first- and second-graders at Hoover in math and reading, and while I was doing that, it came to my attention that there were some kids who maybe needed a little more support.”
So, Griffith got together with counselors at both schools to develop a plan. Griffith would sew quilts and the counselors would choose children to receive them, “and it just kind of snowballed from there,” she said.
Now, about six years later, Griffith has sewn more than 300 quilts for the students.
For Kristy Griffith, Kathy’s younger sister, the idea of sewing 300 quilts seems impossible.
“I couldn’t believe it when she told me she had just finished her 300th quilt,” the sister said. “I can’t even fathom putting that many quilts together. It’s just amazing what she does.”
Each quilt, Kathy Griffith said, is about 5-feet long and 4-feet wide and take anywhere from eight to 15 hours to make.
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“It just depends,” she said. “Sometimes I will get a stack of quilt tops from Comfort Makers and then all I have to do is add the batting and the back. Other times, I’m piecing the entire quilt together myself.”
“And sometimes, she’ll put a little pocket on the quilt and put like a little stuffed animal or something in it,” Kristy Griffith, 65, said.
A self-described homebody, who fosters Yorkshire terriers for Fur Fun Rescue in Lisbon, Kathy Griffith said making quilts for children in need has not only allowed her to put her skills to good use, but also given her a sense of purpose.
“I like to create,” she said. “I like bright colors and interesting patterns, and I love to put them together and see how it looks.
“You know, it’s my project,” she said. “I work on it alone. I deliver some of them to both schools in September, after the counselors have gotten to know which kids are in need. Then I take another round of quilts to the schools in February. And I love doing it, because I know I am bringing a little bit of comfort to those kids who don’t have much or maybe have it a little harder than their classmates.”
“Kathy doesn’t feel you know that she needs any ‘thank yous’ or recognition for what she’s doing, because I don’t think she realizes how special it is,” Kristy Griffith said. “It’s just, you know, not everybody does stuff like that. I mean we live in such a world right now that is filled with such chaos and negativity, and she just keeps churning out those quilts for underprivileged kids. She has given so much to these kids, and I just think it’s amazing.”
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