Wrapping Ukraine with Quilts and The Healing Power of Sewing

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be sitting in Krakow, Poland, teaching sewing skills to traumatized Ukrainian refugee women. These women gathered their children and fled for their lives when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. 

While sitting with these first-time sewers, I witnessed the incredible power of engaging in mindful creativity – a force that can help people cope with post-traumatic stress, depression, uncertainty, and fear – if only for a few peaceful hours sitting at a sewing machine. 

How did I end up in Poland sewing with Ukrainian women? Here is a story of how I “accidentally started” a non-profit charity and recognized that a sewing machine could be a powerful tool in changing lives. 

Volunteers with Wrap the World with Quilts traveled to Poland to set up sewing centers and to teach Ukrainian refugees sewing skills. 

I have been a business owner and writer in the quilting industry for many years, having owned a quilt shop and pattern design company. I ran a longarm quilting business and was a dealer for longarm quilting machines. I have also been a quilting blogger and freelance writer writing about trends in the quilting industry. I know quilters. And quilters are givers. 

Quilters are Givers; Sewing is Good for the Soul

When Russia invaded Ukraine a little over a year ago, I felt the need to help but didn’t know what to do. My husband, Hal, had business friends from Ukraine who had to leave their homes and country for safety. We watched on the news as millions of Ukrainian women and children fearfully left their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons as they fled their homeland for safety in other countries. 

Hal, and my business partner, Beth Hawkins, decided we wanted to help. As quilters, Beth and I knew we wanted to send a handmade quilt to some of the refugees to say, “We see you, and we care about you.” We thought that through the gift of a handmade quilt, we could provide comfort, love, warmth, and human connection. We contacted our “quilty” friends on social media and thought we would collect a few hundred quilts in a couple of weeks, ship them to refugees, and fulfill our project to “Wrap Ukraine with Quilts.” 

Boy, were we wrong! Remember when I mentioned that quilters are givers? They responded to our request for quilt donations and started sending us quilts–hundreds and hundreds of quilts–and they have not stopped! Every single day for over one year, we have received quilts. We often receive over 700 quilts in one week! We have received quilts from all 50 states and six countries. 

Hundreds of quilts are delivered each week to Wrap the World with Quilts. 

“On our website, www.wraptheworldwithquilts.com, the quiltmaker can register their quilt before sending it to us, and it is assigned a unique QR code which we attach to each quilt. When the quilt is delivered, the refugee can scan the QR code and send a message back to the quiltmaker. “We have received hundreds of emails of thanks and photos and have heard many stories from the refugees,” said Hal. “This has been a powerful way to make a human connection between the quiltmaker and the refugees who receive a quilt.” 

“We know quiltmakers are givers,” said Beth. “What we didn’t expect is the number of quilts that have been donated. We are blown away. We have collected and distributed nearly 27,000 quilts! That is over 33 tons of quilts valued at over $16 million.” 

A quilter in Idaho collected quilts and drove her car with over 100 donated quilts to Wrap the World Quilts headquarters in Lehi, Utah. 

Quiltmakers armed with a sewing machine and some fabric are making a difference in someone’s life. 

What started as a small campaign to “Wrap Ukraine with Quilts” has exploded! We became an official 501(c)(3) charity called “Wrap the World with Quilts,” with our main focus being helping Ukrainian refugees living in Poland, the safer parts of Ukraine, and Romania. 

We have hand-delivered thousands of quilts to displaced Ukrainians and have a partnership with another charity, Lifting Hands International, which regularly sends cargo containers of humanitarian aid–including our quilts–to refugees. 

Hal met this Ukrainian family on the day they arrived in Poland after fleeing their home near Kyiv, Ukraine, soon after the war began. They were the first family we gave quilts to just a few weeks after we started collecting them.  

A Life-Changing Humanitarian Trip

Six months ago, we took a group of 32 quilters on a humanitarian trip to Krakow, Poland. We delivered hundreds of quilts to refugees. We raised money to buy 30 bernette sewing machines and supplies and brought 1,000 pounds of fabric. We set up a sewing center for refugee women to come and learn to sew. 

We held two days of workshops for 50 Ukrainian women. We did not speak Ukrainian, and only a few of them spoke a bit of English. But through many hand gestures, demonstrations, and the help of Google translate, we taught, and they eagerly learned. Most had never touched a sewing machine before. 

We saw the stress and anxiety on their faces when they walked into the workshop. They are women who had to move to a foreign country, who don’t speak the language of that country, and who live in a refugee center with other refugees they do not know. They fear what could happen to their husbands, sons, and fathers who had to stay in Ukraine. They are worried about their homes, their families, and their future. 

Ukrainian women enjoy the sewing workshop. They were taught basic sewing skills over a two-day workshop in Poland.  

As we began sewing, we saw the stress begin to leave their faces. We saw them begin to smile. We started to laugh with them. We cheered them on as they finished projects, and they were eager to create a new one. We watched as they headed over to the fabric table and began picking up and admiring the fabric colors and designs as they started planning the next sewing project. They did not want the day to end. They came back for day two of the workshop with smiles of excitement and enthusiasm and a desire to continue to learn and create.  

One woman told us she did not get any sleep because she was thinking about all the things she wanted to do the next day. Many told us it was the first time in seven months that they were not constantly thinking about the war. It was the first time in a long time that they had smiled and had some joy.  

We saw what sewing and engaging in creativity were doing to help these women get through a horrible time. 

Before we left our 6-day humanitarian trip, we committed to setting up additional sewing centers; we hired a part-time sewing instructor to travel to the different centers to continue to teach sewing and quilting classes. 

“I returned to Krakow a few weeks ago and visited a sewing center. Women were sewing and making all sorts of items to sell at an upcoming market fair,” said Hal. “One woman came up to me and said the sewing center has become her haven and that she has found peace in sewing.” 

Our experience in Poland has helped me see more clearly that the mindful process of making and being creative is powerful and can support our mental well-being. Whether you are young or old, a seasoned sewer, or new to sewing, we can take refuge in a creative process. Luckily, most of us are not facing the traumatic life-changing situation of the Ukrainian refugees. 

We left Poland feeling the need to do more, so we will continue collecting quilts and have planned another humanitarian trip in May. We will be resupplying the sewing centers and are looking forward to getting a chance to sit down and sew with our new friends again. 

Julia, a Ukrainian refugee, is making applique tote bags to sell at an upcoming market. 

For more information about how to donate quilts, please see www.wraptheworldwithquilts.com or follow @wraptheworldwithquilts on Instagram or Facebook. Contact Gina Halladay at [email protected]. 

“One quilt wrapped around one person shows that we see and care about them. We can make a difference,” said Gina Halladay, shown here with a Ukrainian refugee in Poland.  

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