Kate Mast is the Workroom Supervisor in the Material Resource Center for MCC-Central States and lives in Hesston, Kansas.
A “charming” hallmark of my personality is that when something excites me or makes me happy, I want everyone else around me to also love it! I naturally become a salesperson for whatever brings me joy. Over the past few months, I have tried to convince my friends to try a Zumba class, claim their free trial of Spotify Premium, buy the “hot and spicy” version of Cheez-Its (so much better than regular, in my opinion!), and watch the “Yodeling Walmart Boy” video on YouTube. As much as my friends might roll their eyes, there is something to be said for sharing what brings us joy and satisfaction, even if some of these things are more trivial than others. So, if you have talked to me in the past year or so, you probably already know that a newfound joy in my life is comforter making, specifically comforters for Mennonite Central Committee!
MCC sends comforters to overseas partners working with vulnerable populations, such as refugees, displaced persons, and people affected by natural disasters. Before starting my role as the Workroom Supervisor in the Material Resource Center for MCC-Central States, I was only vaguely familiar with what went into making a comforter. However, on my first day of work at MCC, I was introduced to a wonderful group of volunteers with a contagious passion. They carefully showed me the many steps in the process: matching fabrics, cutting squares, measuring, piecing, pressing, sewing, pinning, knotting, trimming, and binding… and reassured me that there are many steps that even beginners can do! I have always been attracted to colors, textures, patterns, and creating with my hands, so I was immediately drawn to the process. I’ve now been working at MCC for almost two years, and I can honestly say that working with comforters is my favorite part of my job! I jump at the chance to host or attend comforter-making events, I love to unfold every comforter that is donated and admire the patterns, colors, and creativity. I’ve learned so much from the act of creating beautiful things together, and so much from the volunteers who give their time, talents, finances, and efforts for this cause.
One of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned is that “comforters for relief don’t have to be ugly”—a direct quote from a talented and dedicated comforter maker in Illinois. Although the idea that a gift shouldn’t be ugly is not revolutionary, it is a statement that initiates a shift of mindset. Often times, our instinct is to keep what is beautiful for ourselves, and use what is leftover for others. However, this quote is a challenge to use our best—either using the beautiful fabric from your stash that you’ve been saving for an unspecified project, or being creative in pairing leftover fabric with complimentary fabric to make it look attractive. When MCC is able to send beautiful and well-made comforters to our overseas partners, it sends a message of dignity and humanity to the recipients. I love to observe the intentionality and quality of comforters that volunteers are continuing to create, some simple, some with hundreds of seams. Donated comforters can be so much more than mere constructions of materials that will keep someone warm or “be better than nothing”—they can be works of art; well thought out gifts of love for brothers and sisters around the world.
Another beautiful thing I have observed is the natural community that is formed around comforter making. Last week, a donor brought 12 completed comforters she had made in her home to donate to MCC. The volunteers in the workroom all gathered around the table and opened up each of the comforters, oohing and awwing, touching and feeling the fabrics and creative patterns. A few were even taking pictures of design ideas to be replicated. There was an instant connection between everyone around the table—over the love of fabrics, the eye for design, and the care put into these gifts. Oftentimes, a comforter will be worked on by at least 5–6 different people before it is complete. It takes many hands, many ages, many different skill levels. Week after week, comforter-making groups find joy in working and creating together for the good of people they will never meet. There is something so satisfying about finishing a comforter… I’m telling you, it is contagious!
As I work with volunteers who are making and donating comforters, they often dream out loud about what they think might happen to their creation. Where will this comforter end up? Will it keep a person or family warm, or will it go to a hot climate? Perhaps be used as a mattress or a curtain or a wall divider? Will kids play “I-Spy” with this scrappy design? Will they be able to tell that a group of 5th graders tied this one? Will this bright design make them smile? Will they know that I prayed for them as I pieced it together? It is all part of the intrigue of making comforters for relief.
In my job, I often hear stories about the creation of the comforter. But, the truth is, the maker will never know what happens to the comforter once it is donated. It could be loved and cherished, it could be muddied and destroyed, it could be re-gifted, it could cover someone who is dying, or swaddle someone who was just born… the comforter will go on to have a story of it’s own that we will never know, and I think there is beauty in that mystery!
Now, it wouldn’t be like me to share all of these musings on comforter making without also inviting you to join in the fun! Last year, MCC sent 51,062 comforters to seven countries, including Jordan, Syria, Bosnia, and Haiti, and continues to receive requests for more. For instructions and MCC approved guidelines, you can visit www.mcc.org/comforters, or reach out to your local MCC Material Resource Center. If you have made a comforter you are particularly proud of, or have a comforter-related story to share, I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy comforter making!