From Hjem to Home: Immigrant Adventures

Hospital fundraising quilt - Vesterheim 1997.021.001

Groups Sew Support for Community

In the last few months, groups and individuals all over the country have used ingenuity and creativity to help their communities by sewing needed supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. A local Decorah group, Seamsters Union of Winneshiek County, has coordinated 169 volunteers, both men and women, to make over 11,500 masks and 288 PPE gowns. Using material donated from quilters and crafters and Decorah’s Depot Outlet along with some purchased supplies, they have made these masks available to over 100 local organizations, including businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, and the citizens who need them most. 

It’s not new for people to use their sewing or knitting skills to help their communities in times of need. The photo below shows Red Cross volunteers gathered in the Chicago Norske Klub (Norwegian Club) clubroom during World War I. Although we can’t quite see what they are working on, volunteers sewed garment bandages, comfort kits, and other supplies for their boys who were “over there.” Knitting socks, gloves, wristlets, vests, and balaclavas (ski masks) for soldiers was another common activity. The American Red Cross issued wool yarn and patterns, to be knit by women and men working independently or as part of groups. Children could help by knitting washcloths. 

Signature quilts (like the one shown in detail above and in full below) helped raise money in two ways. A community member paid to have his or her name embroidered on the quilt, and tickets were sold for chances to win the quilt in a raffle. At the center of each flower on this quilt are the names of the members of the Decorah hospital’s auxiliary board. The board members were probably responsible for finding names and donations for their “petals.” Ida Olson Coffeen won the raffle, held in about 1932, during the Great Depression.

Signature quilts were common fundraisers for churches, as well. The money might advance a project in the church or be used toward a local, national, or global benevolence.

What ways have your communities supported those in need during recent world events?


Hospital fundraising quilt – Vesterheim 1997.021.001 – Gift of the Coffeen Family in memory of Ida E. Coffeen
Women volunteering for the war effort, World War I – Chicago Norske Klub Collection, Vesterheim Archives

Women volunteering for the war effort, World War I - Chicago Norske Klub Collection, Vesterheim Archives
Hospital fundraising quilt - Vesterheim 1997.021.001