Seamstress superstar

Quilts comfort families of the terminally ill

KINGFIELD — Rows of thread spools. Squares of cut fabrics. A 1953 Singer sewing machine. It all sits at the top of a narrow staircase in a Kingfield home waiting for the next Comfort Quilt to be born, formed by Dorothy Ferrian’s expert seamstress hands.

“This is my sweatshop,” said Ferrian, unpinning a cluster of squares from the pile and starting the machine that helped her win a Community Superstar Award from Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

Piles of uncut fabric litter every open surface in the room. Bags of fabrics and scraps are pushed under tables and out of the way. An old card table stands in the corner as obscured as the bed by the heaps of folded and unfolded fabric for quilt squares.

Ferrian and her daughter Cheryl Chapman, a nurse for the Intensive Care Unit at Fairview Southdale Hospital, began the Comfort Quilt volunteer program four years ago.

As part of the program, soft light and low music is put on while a handmade quilt is given to terminally ill patients and their families. A nurse will select a quilt or bring in multiple quilts and let the family choose which one best represents the patient or most reminds them of the patient.

“They help to make a less sterile environment and [it] gives them something to hang on to,” Chapman said. “You just know in some little way it’s helped to ease the pain.”

Chapman’s idea came from a need she saw in the hospital to offer comfort to grieving families. During this same time her mother, who was recovering from rotator cuff surgery, was expressing an interest to get back to her Singer. With the loss of two sons, three grandsons and a husband, Ferrian was no stranger to grief or to offering comfort.

Chapman decided to put the two together, hospital and seamstress, and see where it would land.

“She does 99.9 percent of the work,” said Chapman of her mother.

In four years Ferrian has sewn and donated more than 1,500 quilts and hopes to reach 2,000 by the end of the year. She works on 12 quilts at a time, each measuring 30-by-45 inches.

“When I’m sewing for other people I keep thinking: Now who is this going to, what are their problems, what are their concerns?” Ferrian said.

Each quilt is unique and different from the one before. Some are made of big squares and some of small; some are made of patterns and some revolve around one special print on a single square.

“Every quilt is as different as the patient that gets it,” Chapman said.

Fairview Southdale’s Project Comfort Quilt and Ferrian came to the attention of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres when Chapman nominated her mother for the Community Superstar Award. The awards recognize superstars who made an impact in their own communities, and their presentation coincides with Chanhassen’s ongoing production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“There were 12 [superstars] chosen, similar with the 12 disciples of Christ,” said Kris Howland, Chanhassen public relations director. “These are people who exemplify what we were looking for in terms of community superstars. They are selfless and humble people who have not asked anything in return.”

While on the website looking to buy tickets to “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Chapman noticed a link to “Nominate a Superstar.”

“I saw it and thought, ‘Why not?’” Chapman said. “The lives she has touched with the project has made such an impact on people.”

Chapman wrote a 500-word essay, which passed through a panel of six judges. They selected the 12 superstars from over 200 nominations.

“We were all really touched by the fact that she made all the quilts, she came up with the materials on her own and not only that, but she prayed for every person as she made each quilt,” Howland said. “It’s more than just a donation, it’s more than just the gift of a quilt, it’s the thought behind and it is very precious.”

Ferrian will be honored June 16 with dinner and a performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. However, the quilting will go on long after that single night. As long as there is a need and the hospital continues to use her quilts in the program, Ferrian will be behind that 1953 Singer three to six hours a day.

“It’s just so rewarding for me,” Ferrian said. “I’m out of the public eye and I’m doing my own little thing in my own little way.”