This June, the International Quilt Museum held a three-day online quilt auction to benefit disaster relief in Ukraine. The IQM (International Quilt Museum) partnered with Lincoln Rotary Club #14 and Friends of IQM to launch a challenge in the spring for quilters to make a 16-inch by 16-inch quilt inspired by the sunflower quilts within the museum’s collection. The mini-quilt challenge and the auction were met with great enthusiasm; each of the 219 donated quilts was sold in the online auction, with a total of $27,385 coming in for disaster relief in Ukraine.
The idea for a mini-quilt challenge to benefit Ukraine came after a local Rotary board meeting that Leslie Levy, IQM executive director, attended in the spring, amid the Ukraine-Russia conflict. During the meeting, a Ukrainian Rotary member, who is still in Ukraine, gave the Lincoln club real-time updates on what she was experiencing day-to-day. Her emotional report inspired several Rotarians and Levy to discuss what they could do to help.
Sunflowers, while being a popular motif for quiltmakers, are also the national flower of Ukraine, and have become a powerful symbol of solidarity with Ukrainian resistance during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Realizing the potential of how quiltmakers around the world could help disaster relief in Ukraine, Levy and the IQM team developed the mini-quilt challenge and quickly spread word online.
Within a week of the challenge going live on social media, IQM received mentions all over the world of quilters getting started on their sunflower mini-quilts. Renowned textile artists like Robin Schwalb, Ai Kijima, Thomas Knauer and others who are a part of the museum’s permanent collection, began tagging the progress of their quilts to promote the auction for Ukraine. Each submission came with a title for the artist’s quilt, as well as an artist statement.
“In placing sunflowers in the barrels of the three rifles, this quilt [Sunflowers in Wartime] can be regarded as being about a hope for peace. At the same time, in replacing the stems of the sunflowers with rifles it speaks of invasion and violence. As such this quilt carries two meanings: a hope for the future and anguish about the present,” wrote Thomas Knauer, a textile artist known for his activist quilt making.
The sunflower mini-quilt auction ran for three days, and during that time, each of the 219 quilts was bid on. Initially, Levy and the IQM team expected the auction to bring in a couple thousand dollars; however, within just hours of the auction beginning, the team quickly realized they underestimated the reach of the challenge. With over 300 bidders and 1,523 bids, the total amount made to support disaster relief efforts in Ukraine is $27,385.
“We were not expecting the tremendous response to the challenge. Receiving 219 sunflower-themed quilts changed the scope of the project considerably – internally, the team thought maybe $10,000 was doable,” said Levy. “To raise more than twice that, is simply wonderful. Everyone’s spirit of generosity and the desire to help those in need was truly evident.”