As bad as you’ve heard, it actually might be worse.
According to BBC news sources, several serious wildfires in the Land Down Under, exacerbated by dry conditions wrought by human-caused climate change, have killed at least 25 people, burnt an estimated 42 million acres, destroyed about 2,000 homes, and killed a still-unknown number of animals.
As early as Jan. 2, NASA estimated the fires, which technically began in June 2019, emitted 306 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
And even as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticized for what many have called his insufficient handling of the situation, people around the world, including prominent politicians and celebrities, have been eager to find ways to offer assistance and support — perhaps none in a more inherently comforting way than the Bainbridge Island Modern Quilt Guild.
As part of an international group effort by many similar clubs and guilds, the crafty congregation of 40-some quilters has spent the past weeks assembling blocks (the squares that make up a quilt) to be sent to Australia and combined into quilts, which will then be given to those who have been displaced by the fires.
“It’s an amazing effort from quilters all over the world who are supporting these families in Australia and we’re very excited and honored to be part of it,” said Kathy Ruwe, Bainbridge Island Modern Quilt Guild vice president.
“Basically,” she explained, “the call went out from the Wollongong [Modern] Quilt Guild in Australia … just south of Sydney, where kind of the epicenter of the fire is, and we got the message they were looking for quilt blocks with the intention that any family who has been devastated by the fires in terms of losing their homes and losing everything was to receive one of these quilts.”
Immediately the Bainbridge quilters were on board to help those in need on that other, larger island.
“Everybody wanted to do one [and] some people did two or three or four,” said Bainbridge Island Modern Quilt Guild president Jo King.
“They are so imaginative and it’s really exciting to see. And the enthusiasm of caring and giving within the guild, men and women just stepped to it. Cutting and slicing, they’re very complicated and they just went at it,” King added. “It was wonderful.”
The Bainbridge guild managed about 50 blocks, which King will take with her to the upcoming QuiltCon 2020, worldwide quilt show, event, retreat and conference for modern quilters, in Austin, Texas. There, convention officials will compile blocks created by guilds and clubs all over the country and pack and ship them to Australia.
Thus the worldwide response to the Wollongong Modern Quilt Guild’s call, robust as it already may be, is about to get even bigger.
“I read that they’ve received their 1,000th block already, which means that they’ll be able to put together 50 quilts,” Ruwe said. “I don’t know if this Australian guild has received many, if any, [blocks] from any of the U.S. guilds yet.”
Per the call’s instructions, the blocks are 12 1/2 inches large and all incorporate a tree theme.
“All of the blocks that are being created have a tree theme of some kind, but that’s all the parameters they put on it,” Ruwe said. “So people are being creative and … everyone’s using their creative energies to come up with unique things.”
Examples of some blocks already received can be seen on Instagram by searching “#bushfireblocks” online.
“It’s just amazing that quilt guilds all over the world are responding and sending in these blocks that will be stitched together to give to these families who have lost everything,” Ruwe said. “We’re quite dedicated to being part of that wonderful effort.”
While it may not be as immediate as water, food or shelter, King said a quilt is a very special, longer-lasting kind of emotional assistance.
“[Quilts] have a historical significance of caring and warmth and protection,” she said. “That’s what quilts always seem to bring to people. It’s a very old tradition of how to care for and keep our loved ones warm.”