Sewing Quilts for a Stricken Japan

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Just because two months have passed and we've turned our attention to wondering why James was voted off American Idol, that doesn't mean Japan has recovered from its tsunami — or that relief efforts aren't still desperately needed.

Author Eve Kushner and editor (and quilter) Gail Shea, who share a Berkeley office space, have co-founded a project they call Quilts4Japan.

"We're asking people from all over the country to send us quilts for survivors of the multiple disasters in Japan. We're also asking them to make it personal by attaching a message and/or a photo of themselves. I arrange for all the messages to be translated into Japanese," explained Kushner, a longtime scholar of the Japanese language whose books include Crazy for Kanji.

"Our motto is, 'This is from me. I made it for you.' With every quilt we send, we attach an envelope with that motto on the front in both English and Japanese, as well as the Japanese character for 'heart.' We also enclose an explanation in Japanese of the significance of the American quilting tradition: e.g., that a quilt is a gift from the heart and the hands and is something that people pass down through the generations of their families," Kushner said.

Japan gets a lot of summer rain and who knows how many displaced persons will be living in heated homes when fall and winter come around. The quilts will comfort their recipients physically and emotionally. So far, Shea and Kushner have received 160 quilts from all over the U.S.

One of Quilts4Japans quilts, destined for Japan.
  • One of Quilts4Japan's quilts, destined for Japan.

"We're about to send off our first shipment: 131 quilts weighing in at 354 pounds," Kushner said. "We still need to attach messages to the 29 new ones, so they'll be in the next shipment."

All the quilts are being sent to Patchwork Tsushin, a Tokyo-based quilting magazine in Tokyo that has put out a request for quilts from readers worldwide. About 750 quilts have been sent to the magazine so far. Staff members have brought them to the disaster area "and distributed them one by one, making the process as personal as possible," Kushner said.

"The need there will be ongoing for quite some time, unfortunately — so our project will be ongoing,
as well. It feels good to be able to do something — anything — to help."

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