Helen Cruikshank unpacks one quilt after another from boxes and bags stuffed full. They are piled on her kitchen table in a riot of colours and patterns, some for babies, some for children and some for adults. All were hand made, labours of love.
Cruickshank is a member of the Fox Brook Women’s Institute branch and she has been busy making the quilts as part of a county-wide women’s institute initiative.
She is one of two quilters in her branch, the other being Carol Grant. But each member in the group contributes to the project — the others supply the fabric, thread, quilt batting and such so it is a true community project.
“Every month we have a project,” she explains of her branch. This project is a county-wide women’s institute initiative for Women’s Institute Month which is February.
The quilts Cruickshank has collected will go to the Aberdeen Hospital, the IWK hospital and Tearmann House.
Cruickshank has been a member of the Women’s Institute for 51 years, joining the Riverton WI group first in 1967. After the Riverton club disbanded, she joined the Fox Brook WI and has been a member ever since.
The quilt project — anything from a baby bassinette sized quilt to a single bed size — benefits anyone who is in hospital. Some of the handcrafted blankets go home with the patients when they leave the hospital.
“We’ve gotten letters back from those who did take a quilt home. It really touches us — one member almost cried when she read the letter, to think that one of our quilts went home with somebody…”
The quilt project is a popular one with Cruickshank’s Fox Brook group. “We do it all the time, but I suggested the County do it as a project. Each branch is supposed to make at least five.”
Handcrafts are popular with the Fox Brook members.
“One of our members knits tuques by the dozen — 25 a month is no exaggeration!” Cruickshank lauds. “My sister, Mary Romsa, does receiving blankets,” she nods to a pile of dozens of receiving blankets — “and another member knits mittens and we give them to the Dr. W.A. MacLeod School.” Another stack holds dozens of pillowcases that are put on bassinettes at the hospital.
“Some of us quilt and some of us do other things. One member knits baby sweaters and one knits purple hats for Shaken Baby Syndrome awareness.”
Those who don’t knit or crochet provide the materials to make the handmade items.
The Fox Brook WI also supports the community in other ways. Cruickshank notes they buy groceries for the Kids First Resource Centre cupboard. The mothers who attend Kids First are taught how to cook with what’s in the cupboard.
Cruickshank also has a supply of twiddle muffs on hand, pardon the pun. Twiddle muffs, made by the Stellar Knitters of which Cruickshank is also a member, go to local nursing homes where they are beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients. It is a project Cruickshank is hoping the WI group will make as well.
Their philanthropy does not end there. The Fox Brook group also collects clean used clothing for the Shepherd’s Lunchroom. For Tearmann House, they collect bedding and clothing and provide cleaning supplies for when the women leave for their own apartments. There is also an ongoing project of collecting items for the food bank.
The County WI groups meet twice a year — with nine branches in the county and each branch committing to at least five quilts per branch, that means there will be at least 45 handmade quilts to be used and loved by someone in the Aberdeen or IWK hospitals.
The Fox Brook WI is an active group of women. In December, they remember the shut-ins in the community with a visit and a gift. They give money every month for the breakfast program at the Dr. W.A. MacLeod School and supply mitts and hats for them; they give money for scholarships at graduation time to Northumberland Regional High School and contribute to a provincial scholarship as well. They also make a monetary donation annually to the IWK, donate to the Pictou County Christmas Fund and give time to the Salvation Army Kettle. The WI also looks after the crafts table at the Pictou North Colchester Exhibition.
Cruickshank says her attraction to the WI is simple: “I was brought up in it and so was my sister because of the fact that our mother and grandmother were involved in it.” She says some members join WI because their friend goes, or their next door neighbour is involved, etc. “Everyone has their own reason.”
One person Cruickshank knows looked up the group on the Internet, saw that it appealed to her and became a member.
A retired school teacher, Cruickshank volunteers about four hours a day. “And actually I might quilt on Sunday, too,” she laughs.
She is also involved in her church and in Sunday School projects there, in the UCW, Stellar Knitters and the food bank.
It seems there is almost no hand craft Cruickshank can’t do. “Well, I’m not a painter. And I don’t knit mittens because I can’t do the thumbs. I can knit sweaters though …” she smiles.
She estimates she has made many quilts over her lifetime. “I’m not sure, really. I didn’t keep count — maybe 50, 75, 100…”
The mandate of the Women’s Institutes of Nova Scotia is to continue to provide opportunities to enhance the quality of life, through education and personal development, allowing members to meet the changing needs of their local and global communities.