Next to the doorway when you enter Sassy Stitchers in Vinton is a sign that states, “We believe in helping those in need in our community and others as the Lord leads us.” Their primary method of helping is by making handmade quilts to donate to those in need locally and in crisis situations throughout the county. Last year the non-profit group made and distributed 1,450 quilts, up from 1,012 the year before.
Sassy Stitchers has been in existence for several years but relocated to Pollard Street in downtown Vinton in March 2017. The group originated with Bonnie McKee, who enjoyed quilting and often gave the quilts away to the needy. A couple of friends with the same interest joined her and the group has grown from there, although they are currently down by five volunteers due to deaths, relocations, and job changes.
The quilters started out in the recreation room at A. Porter’s Haven senior community in Vinton, then moved to the Presbyterian Community Center in southeast Roanoke, and then last spring moved to the larger space in Vinton, which they are already outgrowing.
The Busy Bees quilting group from Riverdale Baptist Church got them set up and started in their quilting mission, giving them their first sewing machine and fabric. The two groups still share fabric back and forth, depending upon their needs.
The Sassy Stitchers work Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. making the hundreds of twin and lap-robe size quilts. Some of the volunteers, like Sheila and Mary, do their sewing at the shop; Alice and Carol work at home and at the shop; Pat, Joyce, and Jill work from home and bring in quilt-tops to be backed, bound, tied, and distributed; Elnora cuts fabric at home. Brenda has made 236 quilts from home herself.
Louise and husband Manny work at home and with their church group who help make fidget quilts for Alzheimer’s patients. “Fidget” quilts provide sensory stimulation through use of fabric choices, colors, textures, and accessories like trims, beads, buttons, and ribbons for the restless hands of Alzheimer’s patients.
Manny also leads a Bible study at the shop on Fridays at 11 a.m. Kim helps out in the shop most days. Quilters at Gravel Hill Baptist assist with the mission by tacking quilts when needed.
Quilts from Sassy Stitchers have gone to hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, the Rescue Mission, the Blue Ridge Cancer Center, Berkshire Health and Rehab, pediatric cancer patients at Carilion Clinic Children’s Hospital, the Salvation Army, disabled veterans, Carrington Place, and the New Horizon battered women’s shelter in Lexington.
In 2018, Sassy Stitchers has promised to produce 50 quilts per month for Palliative Care RMH alone.
Last year the group made quilts for the victims of the devastating floods in West Virginia. They donated 40 quilts to First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Roanoke, along with sheet sets, pillows, donated mattress pads, and sewing kits for North Carolina flood victims.
They also donate quilts to groups such as the Crimora Players theatre group in Waynesboro, who use them for fundraising projects of their own. The Crimora Players produce plays periodically to raise funds for individuals who come to their attention because of their illnesses. Sassy Stitchers sends them three quilts every three months to be raffled off to raise funds for those individuals and Crimora sends back van loads of donated fabric.
Each month the quilters make a quilt for Living Water Baptist Church on Vale Avenue in Vinton, who provides the Sassy Stitchers their only consistent funding by hosting an open mic program on the first Saturday each month with the love offering donated to the quilters.
Last year Pre-Teen Miss Virginia Emily Southern helped sew quilts for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, which were delivered to Texas through the efforts of God’s Pit Crew. Southern, who is now 12 years old and has won the Little Miss Virginia title, learned to sew and quilt with the Sassy Stitchers as part of her volunteer and community service requirements that come with her title. She will be back at Sassy Stitchers soon for more quilting.
The Sassy Stitchers operate on donations of fabric and supplies, which they frequently receive from quilters or seamstresses cleaning out their sewing supplies or downsizing, or from families who have lost a loved one who was a crafter.
Helen from the Busy Bees passed away after a seven-year battle with cancer and her family put together two truckloads of boxes of her fabric remnants— one for Sassy Stitchers and one for the Busy Bees. When Lucy, who had been a volunteer, passed away, her family took up donations for Sassy Stitchers in her memory.
McKee says that they find a home or use for everything that is donated to them. Nothing is wasted. Scraps of leftover material are turned into pillows, some of which go to day care centers. A donation of men’s clothing was shared with Pastor Frank Broughman of Under the Bridge Ministries and given away in a yard “sale.”
They regularly receive donations of sheets and towels from 14 different hotel chains, some local, which they pair up with quilts being sent to disaster victims. They also receive donations from hotels updating their facilities, including such items as coffee makers, paintings, linens, lamps, and even furniture such as credenzas and chairs.
While their shelves appear to be full of fabric, McKee says they recently received a donation of 55 quilt tops from Harrisonburg and once those have been backed, they will be out of fabric once again.
McKee says that anytime there has been a need, God has opened up opportunities for Sassy Stitchers and even amplified their efforts.
What the Sassy Stitchers need from the community to continue their work is monetary donations, donations of “anything to do with sewing,” and especially volunteers. Even if you don’t sew, they need individuals to launder, fold, and iron fabric, but they are delighted to teach anyone the basics of sewing and quilting. They need volunteers to transport completed quilts and a host of other tasks.
In addition to making quilts, McKee also repairs them. She recently completed a project for Waverly Baptist in which she used fabric bond to mend an heirloom quilt dated 1932 that had become threadbare. It will be framed and hung at the church.
Sassy Stitchers will make special quilts for individuals upon request. They don’t sell the quilts but “will take donations,” for specialized, personalized, or themed quilts which might feature sports, dog kerchiefs, T-shirts, Elvis, or motorcycles.
They covet monetary donations to help with the expenses of rent and utilities. A group recently donated use of a storage building for two months. McKee says what they need sometimes is a warehouse to hold everything or a camper to park out back to store items nearby, such as batting.
There will be a fundraiser for Sassy Stitchers on May 5 at Living Water Baptist beginning at 1 p.m. They hope to have all their regular open mic singers and would like to recruit new singers and instrumentalists. The event is open to the public.
Information on Sassy Stitchers and their projects, as well as how to volunteer and donate goods or money, may be obtained by calling Bonnie McKee at 540-570-0360.