Arts & Entertainment

Woman Starts Massive Crowd-Stitch Project to Honor Life of 99-Year-Old Crafter

When she came across the woman's unfinished quilting project at an estate sale, she knew she had to finish it for her.


Rita Smith passed away in August at the age of 99. She was a school nurse, a mother and an avid crafter. Shannon Downey found all of this out and more after visiting an estate stale at Rita's former residence in Mount Prospect, IL earlier this month.

Downey visits lots of estate sales near her home in Chicago and she often comes across unfinished craft projects, like embroidery, at the sales.

"There's no way that soul is resting with an unfinished project left behind," Downey wrote on Twitter.

After Downey posted the details of her project on social media, fellow stitchers found an old yearbook photo of Rita.

For Downey, it's a personal code that she hopes will continue after she dies, and someone will finish any outstanding projects up for her.

When she was at the estate sale in Mount Prospect, Downey found a bin full of fabric with a detailed pattern mapping out a quilting project that Rita must have started not long before she died. Downey almost cried when she found the bin, and even though she knew the scale of the project was massive (along with the fact that she didn't know how to quilt!), she knew she had to take it home and finish it.

The project required completing embroidery patches for each of the 50 states that would all be part of a large quilt of a United States map. The fabric swatches were already carefully laid out and detailed by Rita. Downey just had to somehow finish it and put it all together.

Downey, who's very active in the crafting community, took to social media to post her story and ask for help with the project.

"You know my love of estate sales and the fact that I cannot handle stumbling upon unfinished projects," she said in her post . "I just know that the person who passed can't possibly rest easy with an unfinished project out there. I buy them and finish them as tribute."

The plan was for Downey to mail each unfinished square to a volunteer, who would then stitch the state and mail it back to her by November 15th. Then, once she received all the finished squares, she would host a "quilting party" to put it all together.

While Downey wasn't sure what to expect, over 1,000 stitchers reached out on Instagram. Downey whittled it down to 100 - 50 to stitch states and 50 to each stitch a star.

"We're trying to honor her vision as much as possible," Downey told WGN-9 .

Downey sent all of the squares out on Wednesday and started the hashtag #RitasQuilt so that stitchers can document their progress and others who are interested can keep up with the project.

As for the finished product, Downey hopes to submit it to a quilt museum so that others can enjoy it and celebrate Rita's legacy.

"I want it to be somewhere it will be appreciated and a testament to what Rita created," Downey told the Washington Post . "And also what community can do. This is such a beautiful story of the power of social media for good."

(Source: images Shannon Downey Facebook )

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