Barbara Bell works unpaid overtime at her “job” of giving quilts away. Actually, she pays to work her “job,” as she buys some of the fabric.

She said she had made 501 quilts for charity, with more being worked on. Quilts for adults go to Tennessee Oncology in Murfreesboro, while children’s quilts go to the Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Center.

She said she hides animals and other items in the quilts for children to find, but she provides each quilt with a list of items for the kids to use in finding the items.

Putting in overtime

Bell said she spends 40-60 hours every week cutting fabric and sewing the quilts with her machine. She donates seven to eight quilts a month.

It takes 40 hours to make a quilt if it’s not too complicated, she said. Mostly she makes “basic” quilts which do not take more time since she is donating them, although when she gets bored, she will tackle a new technique. Much of her fabric is scrap. She buys some of the fabric from discount stores like Hobby Lobby, but cannot afford to buy much of it. Some of the fabric has been donated, which helps, she said.

The Brooklyn native started a quilting ministry at her church, First United Methodist, according to a newsletter story written about her at AdamsPlace, where she lives. Bell said ministry members help out with the quilts.

She decided not to sell her quilts because people do not want to pay enough, she said. If she were to sell a quit for $175, that would average out to about $3 per hour, she said. So, she decided to quilt as a ministry. “I had a great need to do that,” using her skill to serve others.

Bell has been quilting since 2004, with the first quilts going to her grandchildren. Before that, she said she did not believe she had the patience for quilting. She had bought an embroidery sewing machine when she owned a drapery business, although she did not really use that for her business like she had planned.

After she retired, she said she planned only to sew with her embroidery machine. She used that machine to make a special quilt she will not donate because it depicts her family and is based on a real beach vacation. She used clip-art to create parts of the quilt. The details include her son-in-law creating a sand castle. She has seahorses, dolphins and mermaids. Her mother-in-law sits underneath a beach umbrella. Her daughter is sunbathing. There is also an embroidered picture of the cabin they stayed in.

Learning experience

Before 2004, quilting was not in Bell’s wheelhouse. She said she checked out approximately 60 books from the library to teach herself.

Bell said that when she was growing up in Brooklyn, it was a close-knit, blue-collar community. People sat around knitting and crocheting in the summer, and she learned those techniques.

Her life journey since those idyllic Brooklyn days has taken her to many places.

She ran a drape business in Rochester, N.Y., for 12 years to put her third child through school. She and her husband, Earl, lived in Rochester for 36 years, but after he retired from Eastman Kodak Co., they moved to Columbus, Ga.

Life changes

She said she took two years off from quilting when Earl got sick and died, and then she sold their house and moved.

“The quilting ministry is what got me through the grieving process,” she said.

She also has her family to lean on.

Her children are Elizabeth Dotterer of Texas, Debbie Epling of Murfreesboro and Michael Bell of New York State. She has six grandchildren – two from each child.

Bell said she has lived in Murfreesboro for two years, and at AdamsPlace for a year-and-a-half. She said she loves her new community because of the “beautiful apartment,” the activities that are offered and because the staff drives her places. She frequently attends concerts at Middle Tennessee State University. She also enjoys swimming at AdamsPlace’s indoor pool. She also plays bridge.

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