They come together at the Mar Vista Library twice a month to socialize, discuss their families and what’s ongoing in their respective neighborhoods. They come from a variety of distinct backgrounds, but the thread that binds them is their love of quilting.
“There’s definitely a social aspect to it,” says Pat Karastic, a Mar Vista homeowner who has been quilting since 1972. “We get women from as far away as Pacific Palisades and West Adams.”
There is an altruistic aspect to the group as well. They are known as Quilts From the Heart, and they donate their work to charities and social service networks throughout Los Angeles, including organizations like the Venice Family Clinic and the City of Hope.
The men and women who belong to Quilts From the Heart have been meeting at the library since 2004, says the group’s coordinator, Nina Flores. Flores took the reins after Evie Steinberg, who initiated the non-profit, moved to Florida three years ago.
“We are men and women who come together for a common purpose or cause,” said Flores, who teaches adult education classes for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Like Karastic, Flores says those who come to the library to quilt are from a variety of social and professional backgrounds, which lends to very diverse conversations while they quilt.
“Many come with a variety of skills and different levels of quilting, as well as diverse occupations,” she said. “That’s what makes our group very interesting.”
The quilters meet on the second and fourth Fridays of each month, and will be back at the library in January. They currently have approximately 25 members.
The Mar Vista quilting group also makes purses that members sell at the Mar Vista Farmers Market two to three times a year, but they say the vast majority of their creations are given to charities and nonprofit agencies.
In December, the Mar Vista quilting group donated quilts and other knitted clothing items to the Venice Family Clinic, and their gifts are well-received, says Rosalba Montoya, the prenatal intake coordinator at the clinic’s Sims/Mann Health and Wellness Center in Santa Monica.
“A lot of the couples that we see are not ready financially for a baby that is very special in their lives,” said Montoya. “When they come to the clinic and we’re able to give them blankets, mittens or other things, it really makes a big difference to them.”
Karastic, who has attended events when her friends have donated their blankets, quilts and baby hats, said that it was easy to see how those who receive the group’s largess are affected.
“Any recipient of quilts feels the love and appreciation that goes into it,” she said.
There are nearly 40 quilt guilds and organizations listed on the Web site of the Southern California Quilting Guild. According to Pam Overton of the Santa Monica Quilting Guild, the art of stitching together cloth of different textures into colorful patterns has been growing again over the last three decades.
“The resurgence in quilting actually began back in the 1970s with the bi-centennial focus in 1976,” Overton, who also edits the guild’s newsletter, said. “It’s been building ever since then.”
Overton said the Santa Monica guild has 120 members, is working on a number of projects and has supported numerous local charities, as well as national charities like Cure for Autism.
Quilts From the Heart donated approximately 200 quilts in 2008 and nearly the same number in 2009, Karastic said.
Quilting organizations across the nation are engaged in similar acts of generosity. A Maryland guild initiated Quilts For Injured Soldiers in 2003 as a way to help injured members of the armed services returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Christina Powell, a Schenectady, New York resident who has been quilting for 25 years, recently sent a number of quilts to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
“Our servicemen need to know that it’s not just their family and friends that are supporting them,” Powell told CNN a few days before Christmas.
Overton said all guilds do philanthropic work.
“The South Bay Quilters guild has a very active community service group and provide nearly 1,000 cuddle quilts to local nursing homes, hospitals, shelters, etc.,” she said. “The ladies that meet at Mar Vista have been doing their charitable work for some time and enlist the help of Santa Monica Guild members throughout the year.”
Flores, who also lives in Mar Vista, said she takes great joy in providing those who are less fortunate with the gift of a warm quilt or blanket. As an instructor at the Venice Skills Center for several years, she says she has witnessed firsthand the hardships that people endure as they try to regain control of their lives.
“I encounter people who are homeless and unemployed, as well as recovering addicts,” she said. “I often ask myself, ‘What happens to them after we close our doors?’”
“That is the philosophy of many of our group’s members,” Flores continued. “We can do this and make their lives a little better.”
Montoya hears from clients who receive donated blankets and quilts from Quilts From the Heart, and she says that many tell her how important those gifts are to their families.
“They often tell me how much their baby loves the blanket, and they keep the mittens and blankets for other children that they may have later,” she said.
Overton agrees that in quilting circles, friendships are formed readily.
“There is definitely a social aspect to quilting. While you will rarely see a traditional 18th century ‘quilting bee,’ you will see quilt guilds and ‘friendship groups’ within those guilds,” Overton added.
She mentioned the members of Quilts From the Heart as an example.
“The ladies at Mar Vista are a friendship group. The smaller groups meet once or twice a month at a member’s home,” the Santa Monica member said. “Sometimes they work on a project and other times it’s just an opportunity to see each other and catch up.”
Karastic, who grew up in New England, said her group often uses donated fabric and upholstery in its quilts.
“It could end up in a landfill otherwise,” she noted.
Mar Vista is a community that has a growing reputation as an emerging leader in sustainability and conservation, and Karastic, a former LAUSD teacher whose home was visited in the neighborhood Green Garden Showcase in April, says that is a feature of the quilting group that is noteworthy.
“There is a green aspect to it,” she said. “And that’s a tribute to the Mar Vista community, which is very supportive of green living.”
Montoya said she and her clients are very grateful that there are people like the members of Quilts From the Heart who channel their talents and skills in a way that benefits others.
“It is a very nice gesture from them,” she said. “Many people are not always financially able to give monetary contributions, but it’s nice to know that there are people who have it in their heart to give to other people in need.”