Hospital 'quilt room' turns fabric into wheelchairs

Thursday , August 07, 2014 - 11:28 AM

OGDEN — Yes, yes. We all know it’s a dying art. Still, none of these women is ready to pull the sheet up over its head just yet.

In a well-lit room on the fourth floor of McKay-Dee Hospital, five women sit around a large square of brown fabric suspended by a wooden frame, quilting.

Quilting. In a hospital, no less. And lest anyone get the idea this activity isn’t officially sanctioned by the medical facility, there’s a very official-looking sign outside the door that reads: “Quilt Room.”

In a building where other areas are called important-sounding names like “Radiology” and “Oncology” and “Emergency,” “Quilt Room” may seem a bit out of place. Nevertheless, McKay-Dee Hospital has offered a dedicated space for this traditional activity for decades.

“They’ve been doing this since before my time, and I’ve been here for 28 years,” said Judy Patterson, director of volunteer services at the hospital.

Each Tuesday morning, this small but dedicated group of five aging quilters gathers in the Quilt Room to spend four hours stitching on the latest project. Mostly, they create baby quilts, to be sold in the hospital’s gift shop at $65 apiece. Quilter Helen Wise, of Ogden, says it takes about two and a half weeks to complete one of these baby quilts, and they’ve made 15 or so of them this year. Wise estimates they’ve put together 500 baby quilts since the hospital moved to its new building back in 2002.

The McKay-Dee quilters also accept commissions for full-size quilts as well.

“We do HAND quilting,” says Wise, who points out that many quilts these days are done on machines. “You should capitalize ‘HAND.’ ”

Indeed, on Tuesday, the women worked on a full-size quilt featuring multipointed stars. The typical commission on a full-size quilt is $150 to $200, depending on the size and intricacy of the design.

These five women are volunteers. All money made from their quilts goes into purchasing equipment for the hospital — everything from wheelchairs and surgical equipment to treadmills and infant warming beds.

At 87 years of age, Wise is the matriarch of the group. She’s been quilting with the McKay-Dee group for the last 20 years, and until the first of this year had been the group’s coordinator.

That task now falls to quilter Maureen Jackson, of Ogden, who’s been with the group about 2 ½ years.

“She’s a neighbor,” Jackson said of Wise, “But at 87, she decided it was getting too much for her to keep things going.”

And make no mistake: It is becoming more and more difficult to keep this thing going. When the new hospital opened in 2002, the McKay-Dee quilting group had more than a dozen volunteers.

“We used to have 14 or 15 people around a quilt,” Wise said. “But now, we’re lucky if we get five.”

Jackson said Ogden Regional Medical Center, in Washington Terrace, no longer has a quilting group.

“We’re kind of the last of the Mohicans,” she said.

Jackson said people are moving away from hand-quilting, and toward the much faster quilting machines.

“By hand, there’s not many made that way anymore,” Jackson said. “But this is the old pioneer way; these were their blankets, the way they kept warm. Today, quilts are just accents.

“Still, I like the old way of doing it,” she added. “It’s nice to keep in touch with the way things began.”

Jackson says, ideally, the group could use another four quilters. But that’s easier said than done.

“It’s so hard to find quilters,” she said. “People will say, ‘I used to quilt,’ or ‘My mother used to,’ so we’d say ‘Come help us,’ and they would answer, ‘No, I’m too busy.’ ”

Carolyn Hales, of Warren, has been quilting with the hospital group for 15 years.

“My mother was a volunteer at McKay for 36 years, working at the front desk, and she did it until she was 82 years old — in fact, she was at the desk the week before she died,” Hales said. “I decided I wanted to follow in her footsteps, to do some service like her.”

Margee Thompson, of Roy, has been quilting with the group for about three years. She says she enjoys the satisfaction that comes from creating one of these quilts — “knowing that we’ve made something that someone loves.”

She also appreciates the association with her fellow quilters each Tuesday, where they can discuss their lives with one another.

“The ladies we work with are so wonderful,” Thompson said. “And really, they’re our psychiatrists.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at

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