Most quiltmakers like to be able to share what we do and have it make a positive impact; we enjoy using our quilting powers for good in some way. We give quilts to friends and family and co-workers and neighbors; we show them, share them, and sell them. Sometimes we make them specifically to help raise funds or awareness for a cause. I made this one, for example, for a soccer team raffle:
Making quilts takes time, materials, and energy, even for those who enjoy the process. When I find myself making a quilt as a fundraiser, I want to be sure that the resources I put into the project are worthwhile. Maybe a successful project raises a good sum of money; maybe it helps build community; maybe it spreads joy. Whatever the metrics, I'm always looking for new ideas and ways to make quilt fundraisers more successful, I spoke with a few of my quilt friends and gathered a variety of ideas, tips, and tricks. Perhaps this post will spark an idea or help you make your next quilt-related fundraiser (or awareness-raiser) a success.
If you’ve decided (or if you’ve been “volun-told”) to make a quilt project as a fundraiser, the first thing to do is “put on your marketing hat.” Thinking about your intended audience will help you determine what kind of project will be most successful.
As yourself some questions like these:
Who is your target buyer?
Are they working with a big budget or a small wallet?
Do they want a memento? An art piece? A functional item? (Buyers at a preschool or elementary school auction probably want a memento – involving the kids in the project will tug at the parents’ heartstrings ... and wallets!)
Are you appealing to a small, closed group or to a wider community?
Will you be reaching buyers through a live auction? A silent auction? A raffle? (An auction quilt needs to inspire just two interested buyers to bid the price up. A raffle quilt needs to appeal to a larger audience to generate lots of ticket sales.)
It’s also useful to think about the beneficiary organization. Some of these questions could help you think about appropriate quilt designs and styles, too:
Is it a school? A guild? A team? A global cause?
Do you need to involve the beneficiaries in making the quilt?
Is there an event theme or organization theme that you could/should reference?
Will the quilt be offered to an audience to raise money, or will it be used to gain attention and build awareness for the organization or cause?
Then you can put on your “maker’s hat” to ask some technical or logistical questions:
Do you prefer piecing or appliqué?
Do you have lots of experience or just a little?
Will you quilt it yourself or send it out to be quilted?
Will you be working on your own or with a partner or team?
Do you have tight deadlines or endless hours?
Ideas and Examples
For my first preschool auction quilt, I was a novice quilter, happy to do piecing but not appliqué. A friend had given me a stack of bright colorful fabric I wasn’t sure how to use. I wanted to make something attractive and useful that would still involve the kids. This is what I came up with:
I precut three-inch squares and preprinted nine patch templates. The kids got to choose from the stacks of fabric squares to design their own nine patch blocks. I taped the fabrics to the templates in the spots they chose, then took them home to sew them together.
Sue Fox did the quilting for me, writing each artist’s name in the quilting of their block. You can’t really see it from afar, so it doesn’t impact the look of the quilt, but it adds a sentimental touch.
My audience was small (just over 20 kids in the class), but passionate and generous. Luckily, two families were moved to engage in a bidding war for this quilt during the live auction, so the quilt ended up being a success as a fundraiser.
See How We Sew's Pati Fried told me about some quilts that she did for preschool auctions. I love this butterflies-and-caterpillars quilt:
Pati chose multiple related images and traced the outline of the shapes onto muslin squares stabilized with freezer paper. Kids chose their favorite image and painted the muslin like a coloring page. Pati cut out the painted shapes and appliquéd them to the background. That way the kids’ personalities could shine through in the choice of shape and paint, but Pati could control the overall look and feel of the project. You can read more about her process here.
For another preschool auction project, Pati helped the kids make wonky house blocks. She prepared some basic shapes cut from brightly colored fabrics backed with double-sided fusible. There were a variety of rectangles for the body of the house, different kinds of triangles for the roof, other shapes for windows, doors, chimneys, and so on. Pati helped the kids “construct” their houses, then took them right to the ironing board to fuse them to the background fabric. Machine quilting secured the edges.
My kids’ elementary school had a tradition of offering a First Grade Quilt at the annual PTA fundraiser. The school community has some generous families happy to support the PTA at the auction rather than pay private school tuition, so I knew the quilt had good fundraising potential.
I knew I wanted the kids to be involved, and I wanted to avoid appliqué. (I wish I had known Pati back then – I could have upped my appliqué game with less fear!) The theme for the event was the Olympics. The auction was in the fall, so I knew I wouldn’t have a ton of time between the start of the school year and the date of the event.
Here’s what I ended up with:
I had the kids and teachers draw themselves as Olympians (athletes or Greek gods/goddesses) with sharpies on a prepared piece of muslin. I drew a “title” piece on muslin, then put it all together with some simple purple sashing (I know, it looks black in the photo). Sue Fox quilted it on her longarm, enhancing the artwork by outlining each kid’s drawing. The quilt was a success, inspiring a bidding war in the live auction.
Two years later, I did a similar quilt with my younger son’s classmates. This time the event theme was Hollywood, so I had the kids draw themselves as stars. We had all sorts, including soccer stars, singing stars, ballet stars, and star shapes. Again, Sue Fox enhanced the project with her longarm quilting skills.
Sharon Flor and her friend Evelyne Hougardy made six pillows for their school auction. The pillows were made of plaid shirts that looked like those a particular “legendary” teacher would wear, and also included his handwriting with lyrics from one of the songs he was teaching the kids.
Sharon said the pillows were successful for two reasons. First, “each one was not too expensive. I don’t remember what the starting bidding was but I think the highest winning bid for one of the pillows was $85. You could get a bit of a bidding war for each pillow, thus raising the price (and my ego, ha!).” Second, the “teacher was/is legendary at the school, so … everyone from current and past students wanted a piece of him so to speak.”
When my kids were older, I did a quilt for each of their club soccer teams to use as a raffle fundraiser. For these, the kids weren’t involved artistically, but they were responsible for selling the tickets. Rather than make a wall-hanging/memento quilt, I wanted to make something functional that would appeal to a wide range of people. At the same time, I wanted the quilts to have some connection to soccer.
The one pictured at the beginning of this post is called “Flashes of Brilliance” – black and white for soccer balls, with little flashes of bright color (kind of like how they play when they are 12 years old).
The other one I did refers to soccer balls with the black and white four patches, and to the club colors (blue and gold) with the ombre blocks:
Quilt fundraisers work for non-school related causes as well. As I'm sure many of you know, trying to sell a quilt to an audience of quilters can be a challenge. See How We Sew's Julia McLeod made a stunning and successful silk quilt with Sue Fox, raising over $6000 in the Opportunity Drawing for East Bay Heritage Quilters, our local guild.
Pati told me about an art quilt she made to benefit Children's Hospital in Oakland. She made a wall hanging of a guitar, and it was sold at a silent auction during a benefit event called "Chase the Blues." The audience at the event were all music lovers, so the themed quilt was a success.
In 2018, I used a quilt as an incentive for people to raise money for those who had lost their homes and livelihoods in the California wildfires.
I asked people to donate to an organization of their choice working to provide wildfire relief. People sent me donation receipts, and I credited them with one entry per $10 donated. That way I didn’t have to worry about collecting and distributing money. I could increase my audience to include neighborhood groups and people I didn’t know personally, without worrying that they might be uncomfortable donating to an unknown cause.
Some quilts can be used to raise awareness as well as funds. Pati and our mutual friend Judy Miller have both been involved with the Advocacy Project, collaborating with makers from marginalized communities in the Global South. According to their website, the Advocacy Project “helps marginalized communities use embroidery as a tool for therapy, human rights, and advocacy.” Judy, Pati, and other quilters from the US take squares that these makers have embroidered and turn them into quilts that can be exhibited and sold. These quilts help bring awareness of the issues the makers face and help raise money for organizations working to help their communities.
This year, Judy, her daughter-in-law Yvonne Miller, and her friend Nancy Hershberger are collaborating to set 14 embroidered blocks from women in Kenya. The blocks all relate to the women’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the quilt will eventually be used in a vaccination and information campaign. Here is the quilt, still in progress:
When you are working with a variety of inputs, you may need to use some quilters’ tricks to get everything to look right.
With different size blocks, try getting creative with sashing and settings.
When I did my first group/class quilt, the teacher wanted to do the project, and brought me in partway through. She had the kids draw with sharpies on muslin and gave me the blocks to make into a quilt. Because the pieces of fabric the teacher gave the kids were all slightly different sizes, I had to get creative with sashing frames to make blocks I could sew together more easily without cutting off the kids’ drawings.
Pati used creative sashing and layout to add interest and make the sizes of the blocks work together in this preschool quilt:
The more control you have over the blocks you put into a quilt, the easier it will be to put the quilt together.
After my preschool quilt experience, I made sure to prepare and provide the muslin squares for the elementary school quilts I worked on. For those, I drew a six-inch square on each piece of fabric, then used painter’s tape to both mask off the seam allowance and attach the muslin to cardboard for stability. Pati used freezer paper for stability on her preschool quilts. She didn’t worry about masking seam allowance because she cut out the painted shapes.
Quilting can be your friend.
One of the blocks that Judy received for her most recent Advocacy Project quilt was quite puckered from its embroidery. She was able to get out some of the puckers with aggressive pressing, but said that her friend Nancy’s dense quilting really made the puckers disappear.
I have only scratched the surface here – there are so many possibilities for us to use our quilt making skills for good. We auction, raffle, donate, teach, advocate, share, and more. I’d love to hear about what you have made and how you have used quilts to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes (in the comments below)!
I have one more example, and although it’s not quilts or textiles, I’m pretty sure something similar could work for quilts or quilt related items as well. My sons and husband are using their woodworking skills to raise money for the Equal Justice Initiative and our local food bank. My son, Paul, created the website, Florence Woodworks, and photographed the cutting boards and bowls he and his brother and dad made. They sell the boards and bowls and donate the proceeds directly to the organizations.
Maybe something like this would work with placemats? Or pillows? Or some other lower-price-point items?
Whatever your experience, the more ideas, inspiration, and information we share, the better! I look forward to hearing from you.