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Volunteers make ‘angel quilts’ for people undergoing cancer treatment

Members of the Toronto Jewish Quilting Project pose for a 15th anniversary photo. (Courtesy Eva Karpati/National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, Toronto)

The tradition of quilting goes back centuries and was historically used to mark important life-cycle events. Beautiful quilts have reflected the talent and dedication of generations of people throughout the world and, happily, the artisanship still exists today.

The Toronto Jewish Quilting Project, which is run by the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada’s Toronto section (NCJWC Toronto), was started in 2003. It is a group of dedicated women who come together weekly to create amazing quilts. The project’s main objective is to create “angel quilts,” to be gifted to people who are undergoing cancer treatment.

(Courtesy Eva Karpati/National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, Toronto)

They meet at NCJWC Toronto’s headquarters on Bathurst Street. The original group of 20 (which has now grown to over 30) was started by Eva Karpati. The idea came to her a year after she finished receiving treatment for breast cancer. She recalls that during her year of chemotherapy and radiation, she participated in a mini quilting course at Wellspring, a cancer support facility, where she was taught how to sew and create quilts. The experience was both meditative and gratifying. She was able to focus her mind away from her illness and, in the end, produce beautiful works of art.

One of Karpati’s fellow cancer patients was gifted a quilt made by a group in Ottawa that produced quilts for people with cancer. When Karpati saw the finished product, she was “overwhelmed by the sense of love that came pouring out of it – a gift made by strangers.”

This experience motivated her to reach out and start a similar quilting group in Toronto. She put a notice in The CJN and the North York Mirror and ended up bringing together a non-denominational group of women, many of whom are still with the project today.

At a recent meeting I attended, the ladies were divided into groups. Some were working on designing new patterns with the help of books and the Internet, others worked on cutting out materials, some of them were sewing the designs together with small, accurate stitches, while others were pinning the completed sections together on boards, so that they could see the quilt evolving.

(Courtesy Eva Karpati/National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, Toronto)

Each quilt takes approximately two months to complete, since the group only meets once a week.

The quilting room was filled with happy banter, interrupted now and then with a juicy joke or two. At the midpoint of the session, Karpati, a professional fitness instructor, encouraged the group to put the needles down, stand up and do some gentle upper-body stretches to keep the aches and pains caused by sitting too long at bay.

Most of the fabric used is donated, much of it by people who no longer quilt. Warren Kimel, the CEO of Fabricland, has donated the batting and backing for every quilt they’ve made since 2003. The project has received monetary donations, as well. NCJWC Toronto has supported the project since 2005, when then-president Debbie Wasserman thought it would be a perfect fit with the council’s mandate.

All quilts are gifted free of charge and on a non-denominational basis.

To nominate a cancer patient to receive an angel quilt, call Eva Karpati at 416-633-5100, or email [email protected].

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