As Flo Wheatley traveled from Pennsylvania to New York regularly in the early 1980s for her son’s cancer treatments, she noticed a growing number of homeless people throughout her commute. It troubled her to see them day after day. She wanted to help but all she could do was pray for them while nursing her son back to health. For two years, Flo noticed the same man lying near a bridge she passed by frequently but one day she saw him wrapped in what looked like a pink homemade blanket. It was that stark contrast against the dull concrete bridge that inspired Flo to take action.
That night, Flo searched for fabric scraps around the house and started to sew. She assembled old clothes into a seven-by-seven foot quilt on her kitchen table with the help of her kids. When folded and stitched, it became a sleeping bag large enough to hold a man and a few possessions. Flo and her family created eight sleeping bags that winter of 1985.
Flo and her husband, Jim, drove into the city to deliver the handmade sleeping bags with no concrete plan. They drove around looking for anyone in need of sleeping bags and that was the beginning of a family craft they dubbed “My Brother’s Keeper.”
Word spread fast and Flo found herself teaching a group of women from different churches how to make the sleeping bag nicknamed “Ugly Quilt”.
“From that point on, the project was never ours alone,” Flo says. Today, Jim and Flo still deliver as many sleeping bags as possible and The Sleeping Bag Project has expanded across the U.S. Their mission is to help the homeless by making simple Ugly Quilts from recycled fabric and distributing them for free to those who need them.
We’re calling all Craft Ideas readers to get involved by donating items or sewing quilts to help reach more homeless people in need. Their wish list includes: socks, hats, gloves, scarves, underwear, large eye pointed needles, towels, washcloths, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste and monetary donations (for gas and upkeep of the van to deliver sleeping bags). Send donations and finished Ugly Quilts to My Brother’s Keepers Quilt Group or adopt a local homeless shelter to donate regularly!
My Brother’s Keepers Quilt Group
260 Laurel Lane
Hop Bottom, PA 18824
As always, we’d love to hear from you! Send photos of your Ugly Quilts to editorial@CraftIdeas.com. Please contact us if you know of a great organization that is promoting creative, crafty call-outs or one that needs our readers’ help. Happy crafting!
By Flo Wheatley
1. Sew fabric scraps together to create two 7’x7’ squares. Sew one short edge together to form a 14’x7’rectangle piece.
2. Sew two 3’ neckties to the bottom of one 7’ edge, approximately 15” and 30” in for straps.
3. Fill half of the 14’x7’rectangular piece with clean old blankets, mattress pads or fiberfill. Leave a 3” seam allowance on three open edges. Bring over remaining 7’ length to sandwich fiberfill.
4. Tie knots every 8” through all three layers using the large eye pointed needle and yarn to secure cover to fiberfill.
5. Lay 3’ straps from Step 2 up onto the tied quilt. Fold tied 7’x7’ piece in half lengthwise, right to left forming a 7’x3½’ sleeping bag shape. Triple knot along the side and bottom edge every 3” with yarn. Make sure to catch only the four cover layers.
6. Turn right side out. Roll up and tie straps tightly to secure.
Add hats, gloves, scarves, socks, underwear,and toiletries into a plastic bag and stuff into the Ugly Quilt.
Visit www.thesleepingbagproject.org/video for a video tutorial.