Healing hearts 5,000 at a timeApr 28, 2023 11:57AM ● By Jan Weeks
BEACON readers first met Debbie Wolfe in a March 2022 article about Sunset Slope Quilters. A year ago, Wolfe was working on what she had thought would be a Valentine’s quilt composed entirely of hearts made from English paper piecing. A large central heart would be made from rows of interlocking hearts 11/2 by 11/4 inches in size, and more rows of hearts would form the borders.
Then COVID made its deadly entrance. As Wolfe pieced together her quilt she had an overwhelming feeling that she should somehow memorialize those Coloradans who had died of the virus.
At that time, 5,000 state residents had succumbed to the deadly virus. Wolfe told a friend about her idea, and that friend said, “Why don’t you make it a healing hearts quilt for the pandemic victims?”
Wolfe said, “I decided then and there to dedicate the quilt to the people in Colorado who had died of COVID.”
Wolfe would have to hand stitch thousands of hearts together. Undaunted, she threaded her needle and got to work. Of course, no one could foresee that almost 15,000 would eventually die and that she would make hundreds more hearts. The final queen-size quilt has more than 5,264 hand-sewn hearts.
A labor of love
The most recognizable English paper piecing pattern is Grandmother’s Flower Garden, which has been around since 1770. The technique involves cutting and stitching around a paper core, which is removed once the quilt top is assembled and before the batting and backing are attached.
Wolfe’s quilt requires more complicated stitching, since each heart has two separate halves that must be hand stitched together before shaping around the laser-cut paper.
Wolfe used scrap fabric that she’d accumulated, and members of Sunset Slope Quilters and other friends donated their leftovers, too. Some of the fabric had to be “fussy cut,” meaning that, since each heart consists of a right and a left piece, she had to cut a separate piece for each half, leaving room for a seam line, then stitch the two pieces together invisibly and then stitch it around the paper form.
Wolfe came to quilting 14 years ago. Her family lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and she was invited to join the local quilt guild.
“I’ve always sewed and done cross-stitch so quilting was a new way to keep my hands busy,” she said.
Life threw a wrench into Wolfe’s new hobby two weeks after the couple moved to Rock Springs, Wyoming. Wolfe was diagnosed with cancer, so for the next year, her handwork took a back seat to survival. She did recover, and English paper piecing was her go-to craft.
Completing the journey
In 2017 she and her husband moved to Grand Junction and she joined Sunset Slope Quilters. That’s where she started her Healing Hearts years-long journey.
As she set the last stitch she exclaimed, “Oh my god! I did this!”
Wolfe would love to display the finished Healing Hearts at different venues but doesn’t want the quilt soiled with dirt and skin oils.
“I plan to make a small piece that viewers can feel without having to handle the big one,” she said.
Wolfe follows her mother’s advice for everything she makes.
“My mother always said, ‘Look. Pay attention. Do the best you can do,’” she said.
Good advice for whatever life hands you.