Quilting is a solitary activity, but one Merced woman has turned it into a benefit for the Merced community.
Vicky Eisenhart, 63, of Merced for several years has been using her little works of art to warm the hearts of others who may be experiencing some of the worst times of their lives.
Last year was a big year for Eisenhart, who averaged more than one quilt a week. Using her 1930s-era Singer sewing machine, she finished 56 quilts in 2014.
Rather than hoard all that fabric, or just wrap it around her friends and family, she uses her quilts to help others.
It was an easy decision for her. “You can’t keep everything, so you ought to do something with it,” she said. “And if it can help other people, then you should do it. That’s my theory.”
Nearly 20 quilts she made last year will benefit the Valley Crisis Center, a Merced-based facility that advocates for the victims of domestic and sexual violence.
The timing was right for Meghan Kehoe, the center’s director. The center is recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and plans a fundraiser this week to raise money for the programs it offers to survivors of abuse.
“Her heart is in serving the community, and social change and social justice,” Kehoe said. “Even though she’s retired, it’s great to see her continue this work through things that she loves like quilting.”
Eisenhart has also been involved with the center for many years, as well as the advocate for the agency that existed before it came to town, according to Kehoe.
Originally from East Palo Alto, Eisenhart came to Merced with her husband, Wayne, in 1978. She worked retail jobs until she finished her degree in 1996 at California State University, Stanislaus.
She grew up in a different time, when seventh-graders learned to sew, but didn’t get to put it to use until more recently. As an employee of Merced County Child Welfare Services, she made quilts for children who were removed from unfit families.
She said she hoped the quilts could be some comfort to children going through dark days. She remembers one instance when a boy was taken from his family on his birthday, just hours after having a party at school with his classmates.
“It’s like so hideous,” she said. “Then you take him to this room and there’s all these quilts. They pick the one they want, and they take it to foster care with them.”
“It’s like a really good thing,” she added.
The quilts more recently have become auction items for nonprofits, like those that advocate for animals, foster children or the arts.
Her home in Merced is filled with quilts, including a bed covered in about 50. She also has shelves and shelves of fabric, probably more than she could ever use.
But Eisenhart is not the average quilter, according to Anne Tressler, who has known her for about 15 years. Tressler owns an industrial long-arm quilting machine, so she’s familiar with Merced’s quilting scene, which she said is vibrant.
She describes Eisenhart as a “color scientist” with a great eye for quilt design. Making a truly beautiful quilt takes foresight and vision, she said.
And, when one makes more than one quilt a week for a year, Tressler said, it would be easy to become repetitive. She said Eisenhart’s quilts are unique. “She’s a very generous person,” she said. “She just wants to kind of share her gift.”
For Eisenhart, quilting is a creative expression with a pragmatic finish. “To me, this would be just like a painter,” she said “You’re painting with fabric, (and) you actually have something that’s useful.”
The Valley Crisis Center fundraiser is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Merced Multicultural Arts Center, 645 W. Main St. Tickets are $15 for general admission and free for children younger than age 12.
Some of the quilts will be raffled off, and others will be part of an auction. For those not interested in quilts, the fundraiser has many other items up for bid, including a guitar signed by the Beach Boys.
For more on the auction, call the center at (209) 725-7900.
Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or email@example.com.
“Merced Matters” appears every Monday. In it we will tell the stories of Mercedians – ordinary people doing extraordinary things, extraordinary people doing ordinary things and a lot in between. Contact Dave Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2336 with your ideas for “Merced Matters.”