Every Thursday the Happy Quilters of Brighton meet in hopes of spreading warm, loving comfort through their uniquely designed quilts.
Out of the countless projects the Happy Quilters have donated to hospitals and charities, quilters Norma Johnston and Isabelle Grieves hold the Memorial Quilt, honouring the 159 soldiers who died in Afghanistan, closest to their heart.
Although none of the 12 quilters of the group have an immediate connection to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the ladies were deeply impacted by the War in Afghanistan and the loss of life. The idea to patch together a quilt to honour those that lost their life was driven by Johnston.
“There was so much happening over there. One of the girls is from Grafton, Michelle, (Maj. Michelle Mendes) and she was one of the first ones to get killed and we went to the Grafton Legion and there was a memorial that day and the idea just came to me,” said Johnston.
The Happy Quilters began working on the quilt in the fall of 2013, each woman contributed from cutting to sewing and tying the Memorial Quilt. Using calligraphy, each soldier’s name was added to the quilt, including their province, rank and date of death.
As a final touch, the quilt’s label reads “with loving hands and heavy hearts.” Grieves says the label reflects how difficult the process was.
“All of the names had to be double checked and triple checked and every time they did that it was so sad and then worse off, one of the ladies sent us a photo of everybody who perished so now we had the photos and we just…it was just so very hard,” recalled Grieves.
As the ladies patched together the quilt and found the names to add, the ladies would read through the bios of the soldiers, realizing many of them were just in their 20s.
“I just felt sick in my stomach.. the idea to do this was heartbreaking,” said Grieves.
The quilt is currently sitting at the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton and is yet to be displayed. The Happy Quilters have been told that one day it will be on display as part of an Afghanistan memorial.
The ladies have contributed towards the military community in other ways as well. For two Christmases the Happy Quilters created 90 quilts for the veterans of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.
“The ones that went to Sunnybrook were reds, whites and blues and they had flags or different symbols of Canada,” stated Greives.
Over ten years, the quilters have touched the lives of countless ill and injured people through over 2,000 quilts they’ve distributed. Their quilts have been shared from Ontario to Africa and from nursing homes to hospitals.
The group all began with three women, including Johnston, who worked together at the Clothing Depot, a thrift store, in Brighton. Johnston wanted to expand their projects to donate the quilts to those in need.
“It was basically to give something away,” said Johnston.
In the ten years that they’ve been sewing and donating, the Happy Quilters have become an important part of the community. The reward after working hard on a quilt are the thank you cards received at the end.
“That means the world, it means everything,” said Johnston.