A woman found an unfinished, 20-year-old quilt and complete strangers are helping piece it together

Oct 25, 2019, 5:59 AM
Shannon Downey took on the project, a queen-size quilt made up of 100 hexagon pieces -- 50 of them embroidered with a design for every US state and 50 stars.

(CNN) — Most people go to estate sales in hopes of finding a hidden gem of antique furniture or jewelry — for a bargain price. Shannon Downey goes for the unfinished stitching projects.

“I feel like their soul can’t possibly rest with an unfinished piece of art out there,” Downey told CNN.

It was at an estate sale in a Chicago suburb in early September that Downey, who considers stitching her life’s work, discovered Rita Smith’s creations.

“I walked into this house and there was this truly beautiful, completed, hand-embroidered, professionally-framed map of the US,” Downey said.

“I spent 10 minutes just devouring it.”

Seeing her fascination with the map, the woman overseeing the estate sale told Downey to check out a box the bedroom.

“I opened it up and discovered it was a massive quilting project that was just begun. Every bit of the project mapped out and in this plastic tub,” Downey said on Twitter.

“I sat on the floor and almost cried because I knew I had to buy it and finish it.”

“A massive … undertaking”

The project was a huge, queen-size quilt made up of 100 hexagon pieces — 50 of them embroidered with a design for every US state and 50 stars.

“While I embroider, I don’t quilt,” Downey admitted.

That’s where the internet came in.

“I thought I would put it on Instagram and try to see if people would help me finish it,” Downey said.

“Within 24 hours I had over 1,000 volunteers!”

After the names were taken, a spreadsheet was made, and mailing addresses were collected. Just a little more than a month after Downey paid $6 for the massive quilt, she was ready to send out all 100 hex pieces to her volunteers for embroidery.

“I stood there and put three stamps on every envelope,” Downey recalled.

“I was in the post office for probably two hours.”

“A ferocious crafter”

While Downey waited for her helpers to finish their assignments, her volunteers wanted to learn more about the woman who began this project so long ago. Through genealogy websites, the stitches found Rita’s husband, his obituary, and eventually her son.

“I spoke to her son and he was telling me that she was a ferocious crafter and would do upholstery, crochet, stitching… sort of everything,” Downey said.

“Eventually, she stopped to take care of her ailing husband,” Downey said the son told her.

Given the timeline of Rita’s life, the son told Downey that it’s likely the quilt was in limbo for more than 20 years.

“It’s gonna be a thing”

Once the designs are all stitched and the hexagons are returned to Downey, they will be assembled into the completed quilt. She’s given her volunteers a deadline of November 15.

From there, the pieces will be assembled and quilted into a finished product.

“We’ve got some 38 Chicago quilters lined up to handle the quilting phase of the project once we get all of the hand-stitched pieces back,” Downey said.

If everything goes according to plan, the quilt should be ready by the end of January.

“We all agreed we would love to see it in a quilting museum where the public can see it,” she said.

In the meantime, Downey — and everyone else — can follow the progress of the quilt by searching for the #RitasQuilt hashtag.

“An incredible community has sprung up around this,” she said.

™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

The driver of a SWIFT semi stands inside the cab looking for some personal items after the high win...
Devin Oldroyd

Semi-truck rolls on I-80 at U.S.-40, Silver Creek Junction

What caused the semi-truck to roll is still under investigation at this time. All lanes in the area have been cleared and are operational.
18 hours ago
People leave Field's shopping centre, after Danish police said they received reports of shooting, i...
Kim Norgaard, Pierre Meilhan and Jorge Engels, CNN

Several people killed in Copenhagen mall shooting, police say

shooting at a mall in Copenhagen has left several people dead, local police said Sunday.
18 hours ago
Travelers wait in for a TSA security check at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles,...

Pre-pandemic sized crowds descend on US airports for holiday

TSA is reporting crowds of pre-pandemic size are traveling this Independence Day.
3 days ago
The National Weather Service of Salt Lake City says there is a red flag warning in effect for Weste...
Lindsay Aerts

Fourth of July weekend weather conditions ripe for fires

The National Weather Service of Salt Lake City says there is a red flag warning in effect for Western Utah. It warns that many fires are human caused.
3 days ago
Salt Lake County is working to make sure its golf courses don't use as much water in the drought....
Martha Harris

Salt Lake County says it has decreased water-use on its golf courses

Salt Lake County says it has back water usage on its golf courses. The county says it has done by changing how they water.
3 days ago
Back view of two ambulances...
Don Brinkerhoff

Herriman mother saved by off-duty police officer

A Herriman woman feels lucky to be alive after her raft is tipped over and she nearly drowned last week.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
A woman found an unfinished, 20-year-old quilt and complete strangers are helping piece it together