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Volunteer Spotlight: Norwich Woman Stitches Together a Community of Quilters

Norwich — When Peggy Sadler first started sewing, it was out of necessity.

“I sewed because I needed things, and (for) Christmas projects,” said the long-time Norwich resident.

As time went on, Sadler began using her skill for charitable purposes: creating quilts for Lutheran World Relief to distribute to people in need around the globe.

Prior to 2005, Sadler had made quilts for the fund on her own, but in that year she and friend LaVonne Batalden set a goal of making 50 quilts for the Our Savior Lutheran Church’s jubilee. Batalden suggested doing a sewing day from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sixty-seven people attended and produced 32 quilts.

“In January of that year, when the tsunami occurred in Asia, we had the idea of the 9-to-9 marathon so folks who worked or had only an hour to work could participate,” said Batalden, a former Lebanon resident who now lives in Minnesota. “That was a beginning of a community project rather than just our church.”

Sadler and Batalden had planned on making the day a one-time event, but then attendees began asking when the next one was going to be. That year, the two ended up putting together three marathons, as they came to be known, contributing 103 quilts to the fund.

“Having a very tangible result gives some instant gratification,” Batalden said.

After the jubilee challenge, the project, called Disaster Relief Quilting, continued to grow. Today, the Hanover church, which has become known as “the quilting church,” holds a sewing day two Thursdays a month, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

“It’s inspiring to walk into the church fellowship hall every two weeks and see everything running so smoothly, largely due to Peggy’s influence,” wrote Susan P. Thomas, co-pastor at the church and campus ministry, in an email, “people welcomed in and shown what to do, given snacks, enjoying one another’s company, producing often quite beautiful work, applauding the completion of a quilt, and being urged on and congratulated for work done.”

The quilts all measure 60 by 80 inches and are made up of individual blocks of fabric, just like a traditional quilt. But instead of cotton batting in the center, an additional layer of fabric is used to make it stronger. “They’re total utility quilts,” Sadler said, adding that they could be used as room dividers or to carry belongings.

The fabric used to make the quilts is separated by type in different bins stored on shelves in the church. As word began to spread of the project, donations started pouring in. In addition to fabric, sewing machines and boxes to ship the quilts have also been contributed.

As the marathon days continued, the process was made more efficient. “We realized we had to have work stations for people,” Sadler said. “It’s very much like an assembly line. It’s something we’ve developed over the years to make it work.”

Since moving two years ago, Batalden has found a church that does disaster quilting. “It is very small with most people in their 80-90s so it is a different experience,” Batalden said. “One of the things I miss the most is the quilting project and those fine people.”

No experience is required to join the cause and some attendees have even learned to sew through the project.

Today, the group — which includes men and children and people who attend different churches — produces an average of 115 quilts a year. The project has even expanded to Dartmouth College, where a marathon takes place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Sadler’s “energy and enthusiasm, her sense of ‘we can do this’ that is so contagious, brought life and commitment to an endeavor that has since that time provided over 2,000 quilts,” Thomas said.

Part of what makes the group so special is the friendships that have been built through the project. People who attend the sewing days discover companionship and remember the details of each other’s lives.

“The focus is making quilts,” Sadler said, “but the real benefit is the community.”

Editor’s note: The next sewing day is Nov. 7, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. For more information, call 603-643-3703 or email oslc@dartmouth.edu. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3305.