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99 Problems But A Stitch Ain’t One: Instagram Quilters Knit Together To Bring Deceased Woman’s Unfinished Project To Life

There are all sorts of fascinating treasures waiting to be discovered at estate sales—and one Chicago woman’s find led her to a community of quilters determined to help her complete a deceased woman’s unfinished quilt.

“I go estate sale shopping regularly,” artist Shannon Downey wrote on Twitter. “And whenever I find an unfinished embroidery project I buy it and finish it bc there’s no way that soul is resting with an unfinished project left behind.”

It all started when Downey walked into an estate sale and saw a hand-embroidered and professionally-framed  map of the United States hanging on the wall. She knew she had to have the work of art.

Seeing how taken Downey was with the map, the woman overseeing the estate sale directed her upstairs to a box in the bedroom. There, Downey found a box filled with fabric and a blueprint for an ambitious, just-begun quilting project.

“I sat on the floor and almost cried bc I knew I had to buy it and finish it,” Downey wrote.

Downey discovered that the quilter’s name was Rita Smith, and she was 99 years old when she started her last quilting project—the same year she died.

Downey knew she had to finish Smith’s work but had no idea how to complete such an immense project. She calculated that stitching over Smith’s outlines would take her years.

So she reached out to her social media community.

“I have an amazing Instagram community and thought, ‘I can definitely find like four or five people that will help me,'” Downey recalls. “Within 24 hours I had over 1,000 people who were offering to help me.”

A few months later, Downey had her helpers lined up—and they all were eager to learn more about the woman who began the project. So, they did some research. Through genealogy websites, they found Rita’s husband, his obituary, and her son—to whom Downey reached out.

“I spoke to her son and he was telling me that she was a ferocious crafter and would do upholstery, crochet, stitching…sort of everything.”

“Eventually, she stopped to take care of her ailing husband.”

Once all of the hand-stitched pieces come back, Downey said there are 38 Chicago quilters lined up to put everything together. If everything goes off without a hitch, the quilt should be ready by the end of January.

“We all agreed we would love to see it in a quilting museum where the public can see it,” Downey said.

You can follow the quilt on its incredible journey by searching for #RitasQuilt on Instagram.

Patricia Grisafi

Written by Patricia Grisafi