The Eugene Register-Guard's 2005 Profile of Mary Riccio's CFC Work

Mary Riccio looks over some of the quilts she has made in the past 13 years for the Comforts for Children program. On Thursday, the nine quilts she turned in put her over the 1,000 mark.

photo by Brian Davies, The Register-Guard

Quilt Maker Has A Warm Spot For Kids In Distress

By Serena Markstrom, The Register-Guard
Published: Friday, December 2, 2005

For 13 years, Mary Riccio of Eugene has been quietly stitching toward a milestone.

When she began making quilts as one of the pioneer donors for the Comforts for Children program, she had neither a goal in mind nor any idea the program would have such longevity.

But on Thursday, the nine quilts she turned in sent her past the 1,000-quilt mark - 1,004 to be exact.

"I just like doing it," Riccio, 83, said. "It helps a little kid have a warm night. In a way, it is a piece of art, but then again, it gets very practical."

The program distributes the small blankets year-round to 17 agencies that work with children in distress such as the Department of Human Services, Looking Glass, local hospitals and SCAR/Jasper Mountain. They are meant more to bring comfort and continuity to turbulent, emotional times than for bedding, participants said.

Mavelle Featherstone, an advocate at Womenspace, said that agency gives out blankets every day and kids adore them.

"They totally love it," Featherstone said. "They grab them and they put them on their arm and walk out. If a kid is crying, they stop immediately. We have all kinds of stories with the quilts. It's delightful to have them. When we are running short or we run out, we really feel it."

While some program volunteers make quilt kits every Thursday at the Campbell Senior Center for sewers to take with them and construct, Riccio makes her quilts from scratch at home.

Retirement homes and schools have contributed quilts on and off through the years, but perhaps no one has been more steady than Riccio.

"She's just stuck with it all these years," said program director Jean Liittschwager. "She's been pretty loyal."

Liittschwager said it's possible other long-time volunteers have approached the millenary mark, but she would have to go through the ledger that dates to 1991 because no one else keeps count. But that's how Liittschwager determined Riccio's total, after people kept asking the prolific sewer how many quilts she's churned out.

The total was 310, which Riccio wrote as her first entry in a red 3-by-5 memo pad in which she's tracked her donations ever since.

All the women sorting fabric donations and assembling kits in the Elsie room of the Campbell center were aware of Riccio's milestone.

"This is Mary's day, she made 1,000 quilts," Liittschwager said as a woman entered the sewing room for the weekly work session.

Mary Parish has been volunteering for the program for three years and said Riccio's accomplishment is magnificent.

"She has stick-to-itiveness and discipline and she learns new techniques and adapts them to these small, useful quilts," she said.

Riccio described her own style as "independent." She works off of patterns, but makes them her own, she said.

The "stack and whack" technique is one of her favorites. That's where a quilter chooses a busy pattern and cuts it in such a way that repeats on the pattern can be grouped together in a stack, then cut. The end result is a quilt that appears to have come from many different patterns.

"It's a little more complicated, but fun to do," Riccio said. "They are hard to do, very exacting."

While sewing, she might listen to the radio, but otherwise concentrates on what she's doing. She said it's a great way to forget about the world.

"Why not use your time productively?" she asked.

Riccio was not about to rest on her 1,000-quilt laurel. She packed up new fabrics to take home Thursday, said goodbye to the other women and headed for the door.

"I'm going to go home and finished the quilt I started this morning," she said.

This page was last updated November 25, 2009.