Ellie Evans has been an avid quilter, sewer and knitter her whole life. She’s made quilts for each of her grandchildren, quilts for church fundraisers and quilts just for fun.
Always up for a new project, Evans had just joined a quilt of the month club, which sent her new fabric each month, a few weeks before Sept. 11, 2001. As the planes hit, one after another, knocking the collective wind out of an entire nation, Evans sat glued to her TV in horror.
“I’m a thirteenth generation American,” says the spry octogenarian, adding, “I was raised in the age of innocence, when all the stories had happy endings. I couldn’t understand these kinds of things.”
She, along with the rest of the still-gasping-for-air nation, woke the next day to a new, less shiny world. Her daily activities were somehow devoid of meaning, the joy she had once found in her sewing projects felt almost inappropriate, her interest in the quilt she’d begun to lay out had vanished.
“I just put it away. I couldn’t make a block of the year quilt for such a terrible year.”
A few years later, Evans moved from Texas to Naples, and the beginnings of the unfinished quilt moved with her. Among boxes of household things and family photos, there it sat, a heaping mess of ragged edges and unfinished seams.
“I started working on it, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll get that done at least.’”
And over the next eight years it slowly took shape, not as the original quilt she’d envisioned nearly a decade ago, but as a new quilt, completely dedicated to the memory of 9/11.
It was a long process of laying out the pattern, sewing the front and back together, adding the batting and finishing the edges, but late last year she finally finished it. With it completed, Evans couldn’t help but think, “now what?”
Having spent a career in nursing and public health and from a long lineage of family who have served in every American conflict since the American Revolution, donating the quilt just seemed like the right thing. Evans knew a quilt born from such evil needed to go to making good.
About the same time, Evans got word that the Collier County Freedom Memorial was running short on funds. The granite and brick memorial, planned as part of Freedom Park, was several hundred thousand dollars short of their fundraising target.
“That just seemed like such a tragedy to me. With all the money that’s down here, they can’t raise enough for the memorial,” Evans lamented.
“We’re going to need at least $800,000 to complete it,” confirmed Jerry Sanford, chairman for the Collier County Freedom Memorial and retired New York City firefighter. Most of that cost is for the huge slab of granite, which will make up the memorial’s flag. Over the years, several citizens have asked why they don’t just downsize their blueprints, opting for a smaller and less costly granite flag, but Sanford holds firm on their original vision. “We really want this to last for generations and generations.”
And, though they’ve still got quite a bit of fundraising left to do, Sanford remains absolutely positive on their fundraising efforts. He stresses that much of the money raised has come in small increments, with many little donations adding up to make big totals. “It’s incredible, it’s all raised by the people, $5 at a time.”
Evans’ quilt, which will be raffled this week, will surely add to the effort — five dollars at a time. That’s the price of a raffle ticket and with the quilt’s exquisite details and touching imagery, it’s one of the best bargains in town.
“You have to see it up close to catch all the details. They’re done in subtle thread colors, so you have to really become a part of the quilt to fully feel it,” emphasizes Evans’ daughter-in-law, Carolina Mosier.
And Evans has certainly spent a lot of time and effort ensuring every square inch of the quilt is meaningful. The brown color around the edge of the design symbolizes all of the dried blood spilled that fateful day. The black that frames the quilt mimics the hanging of a black crepe over the fire station’s door after the loss of a fireman. Stitched in to the quilt are images of the Twin Towers and the words “We will never forget,” as well as a dedication to local resident Thomas Pecorelli, who died as a passenger on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.
But she didn’t complete the quilt alone. Evans is quick to ask that her good friend and local quilting legend, Jean Dunn, get credit for all of the machine work done on the quilt. “Now, if you’re looking for a really good quilter, she’s really wonderful, you should interview her,” insists the very modest Evans.
Modest or not, Evans’ desire to stitch together something positive from the pieces left behind on that tragic day should not go unlauded. Her years of work laying out fabrics and sewing patterns deserve to be celebrated. Perhaps through her simple act of kindness, her stitches, like sutures, can help to heal the soul of a nation that still grieves — 10 years later.
If you go:
The quilt is on display through Saturday at Naples Harley Davidson, 3645 Gateway Lane, in Naples. The raffle will take place on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, after the 6 p.m. Mass at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, located at 5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road. Tickets are $5 each or five for $20.
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