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Our next story is about a woman in Chicago. She often visits estate sales. And when she finds an unfinished craft project - think cross-stitch or embroidery - she feels compelled to buy it and finish it. But when she stumbled upon an unfinished quilt of the United States earlier this fall, she knew she would need help to complete it. And she got that help this weekend.
Kate McGee from member station WBEZ was there.
KATE MCGEE, BYLINE: Shannon Downey found the unfinished quilt in the bedroom of an old house on Chicago's North Side. At that point, it was a pile of fabric cut into hexagons. A few were embroidered with the outline of a state along with that state's bird and flower. Alaska and Georgia were finished. New Jersey was halfway done.
SHANNON DOWNEY: I just sat down. And I started shaking my head. And my friends were standing around me, and they're like - oh, dear. And I was like, this feels much bigger than any of the other ones. And they're like, yeah.
MCGEE: The project was started by a woman named Rita. She died earlier this year at 99 years old. Downey's known on Instagram for blending art and activism under the name Badass Cross Stitch. And her friends are used to her buying these unfinished projects at estate sales.
DOWNEY: Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's an unfinished pillow or, you know, just a small hoop.
MCGEE: But she couldn't do this project alone, so she put a call out on Instagram. First step - getting the hexagons embroidered. The response was overwhelming. Women from across the country wanted in. Some researched Rita and found out she was a nurse and avid crafter. They found her high school yearbook photo. Whenever someone had a question, Downey thought about what Rita would want.
DOWNEY: This is her art, and we're just the hands.
MCGEE: Next, she organized a modern-day quilting bee, carrying out a long tradition of women getting together to sew and quilt. Women came from all over the Midwest to help.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'll start doing Utah, West Virginia.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I'll do Texas, Washington and 45.
MCGEE: The women sit, chatting away, hunched over pieces of fabric, their needles and thread weaving in and out of the colorfully stitched hexagons.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: So Wisconsin sticks...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I'm going to...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: ...Sits here.
MCGEE: A few of the women sewing the quilt top together had also embroidered a state, including Hannah Allen, Elizabeth Foley and Tiffany Quade (ph). As they stitched, they discussed the project.
HANNAH ALLEN: My work isn't worth somebody finishing when I die. No, you could...
TIFFANY QUADE: Maybe it is. Maybe that's the whole point. Maybe Rita felt the same way, too.
ALLEN: And this goes to a point of underappreciation of women's work. And we're kind of told that our work isn't worth anything.
ELIZABETH FOLEY: Oh, it's just a little hobby.
ALLEN: Yeah, it's a hobby.
QUADE: We underappreciate ourselves then.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Ow - that was a pin in my palm.
MCGEE: As the women connected more and more pieces, Downey gathered them around.
DOWNEY: I know that Rita is resting in craft peace because this - this is going to be done, and it's going to be done in a really epic way. Rita was just a normal person, and we're just normal people. It's wildly honorable, and it's worth there being artifact and story and memory around. So yay, Rita.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Thank you, Rita.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Thank you, Rita.
DOWNEY: Mmm hmm, cool.
MCGEE: Seven hours after they started...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Woo, last stitches.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: This is a porcupine (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: The final thread.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: Yay.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: Yay.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: I'm going to cry.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: We made it.
MCGEE: The last stitchers stood in a circle, each holding an edge of the quilt top - nearly 8 by 9 feet. They admired their handiwork and the skill of so many other women, including Rita's, whose embroidery is now mixed in with the others. In March, the finished quilt will be on display at the National Quilting Museum (ph) in Paducah, Ky.
For NPR News, I'm Kate McGee in Chicago.
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