There are quilts with airplanes and teddy bears and dinosaurs. Blankets with flowers and butterflies and bees. The tops are cotton and colorful. The underneath, plush and warm.
The bright-green bins that hold both the supplies and finished product of Betty Nelson's labor of love crowd her small living room. Next to them is the sewing machine that she uses to stitch her creations. In the corner, her chair, where she toils hour after hour after hour.
Each blanket, she figures, takes six or seven hours to make.
In five years, she has made more than 900.
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"I just make them and give them away," said Nelson, sifting through the fabric scraps and pieces that will become blankets. "I just do it for the kids."
Nelson, 62, donates the bulk of the blankets she carefully sews to the Christ Church Cathedral Community Cupboard. She sometimes gives a few to HealthFirst Bluegrass. Both organizations have given to her. She sees a doctor at the HealthFirst clinic. The Community Cupboard helped her a few years ago when she was in need.
About two years ago, Nelson, and her husband of 10 years, Vencil, unexpectedly got custody of three grandchildren.
"They came to us with nothing, just the clothes on their back," she said.
A school counselor directed the family to the Community Cupboard operated by the Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington. The Cupboard offers those in need items not covered by food stamps. The program takes referrals from the Family Resource Center at local schools.
The Nelson family received clothes for the kids, cleaning supplies and the like.
An independent woman not comfortable with handouts, Nelson sought a way to give back. Her sister had been making quilts for babies in Tennessee so, she said, she decided to do the same. "I thought it would be a nice thing," she said.
The first several dozen, she just dropped off with little fanfare. No one really knew where they were coming from, said Kathleen Imhoff, coordinator of the Cupboard. They just seemed to appear, she said.
People call Nelson 'The Quilt Lady'
Finally, someone caught Nelson in the act. When word got out about what she was doing, people started donating supplies. That meant she could make more blankets. The cycle continues.
When people with small children come to the Community Cupboard to get supplies, they'll also get one of Nelson's blankets, Imhoff said.
What does Nelson get? Well, she has a picture of a blonde toddler, grinning, clutching one of her quilts. It's blue and decorated with twinkling stars. Nelson holds it dear.
"It is the sweetest thing," she said.
She's also heard a story that a mom who got two quilts Nelson made slid off the road during a wintry storm. Her car in a ditch, she only had the quilts to keep her baby warm until help arrived.
"They said we saved that baby's life," said Nelson, with a shrug. "Well, I don't know but at least we kept them warm. It gives me goose bumps every time I think about it."
Nelson works on dozens of blankets at a time, making the backing and the borders in batches, matching squares of like fabric to build on a theme. She is careful to match patterns and themes. Not much of a sleeper, she sometimes sews late into the night. "I'm not one to do nothing," she said.
She and her husband live on a limited budget, so she makes due with the fabric donations she gets.
"When the donations stop, I'll have to stop," she said.
But, until then, she keeps sewing. A recent gift of sheets turned out to be perfectly suited for binding.
"You wouldn't believe what you can do to make do with stuff," she said.
The grandchildren who came to live with her aren't there anymore. Nelson's failing health — she is currently taking chemo for ovarian cancer — meant she couldn't care for them.
They went into foster care and might be put up for adoption. The state, she said, won't tell her where they are. That doesn't seem right to her.
But, she said, she'll do what she can for other babies, even if hers aren't with her.