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Column #69

Scrub Quilts

Kay Needles
Kay Needles, NICU nurse and sewing volunteer coordinator at St. David's Hospital, shows off one of the scrub quilts on an isolette holding a premature baby.

Scrub Quilts
When possible, premature twins are kept together in the neonatal intensive care unit. These scrub quilts cover the isolettes of a sister and brother who had been in the NICU for over two months.

Kay Needles is a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. As a child growing up in Nottingham, England, Kay’s grandmother taught her to sew, knit, and crochet, and instilled in her what has become a lifelong love of needlework of all kinds.

Those skills were put to especially good use when Kay became the volunteer coordinator for needlework services provided by individual donors and members of such charitable organizations as Threads of Love and Newborns in Need, all dedicated to providing handmade articles for premature and sick infants. 

When a baby is born prematurely at the hospital, it is transferred to an incubator called an “isolette” that provides controlled temperature, humidity, and oxygen for the infant. Made of a clear plastic material, the isolette is draped with a cover in order to keep the baby in a dark environment that better approximates conditions in the womb. Because having a premature baby is so difficult for the child’s parents and family, the hospital staff takes special care to lessen the trauma of the situation however possible. In an effort to reduce the sterile look and feel of the isolette, its cover is often handmade by sewing volunteers such as the ones Needles coordinates.

The uniforms that nurses wear are called scrubs, and usually the decision as to fabric color and pattern of the scrubs is left up to the individual nurse. As a result, they can be highly personal and for many in the profession, they take on special meaning.

“We NICU nurses get very attached to our scrubs,” Needle explains. “Some of us remember which pair of scrubs we were wearing when we were caring for a certain baby or even our own babies. Most of us hang on to them—scrubs are not something that we give away.”

When St. David’s decided to standardize on a navy blue scrub as the uniform for its nurses to wear, all the colorful, patterned scrubs that the nurses had been wearing were suddenly relegated to the back of closets or stored away. 

Not long after the uniform change occurred, Kay came up with an idea. The NICU was in need of new isolette covers, ones that were made of durable, good quality fabrics that could stand up to repeated washing.

Dependent on donations for materials to make such items, she realized that she had a ready supply of the perfect fabrics: all those scrubs that the staff could no longer wear but didn’t want to part with. What if they were used to make little quilts for the isolettes? That way, the nurses could still enjoy their scrubs, albeit in a different form!

The isolette scrub quilts are made of six-inch squares and backed with fleece. They are bright and colorful and some even have holiday themes. The NICU nurses have all gotten involved with the project, bringing in their old scrubs and helping to cut squares during down time. They have also held bake sales and other fundraisers in order to buy fleece, thread, and other necessary supplies for the quilts.

Needles does most of the cutting and sewing at home. After the family of a beloved colleague who had died of ovarian cancer learned about the project, they donated all her old scrubs, and the isolette quilts made from them have extra meaning for the NICU staff.

When she first started the project, Needles assumed that she might make 20 or 30 quilts, but to date she has made over 100 and she says that her sewing room at home is full of donated scrubs to make more. “I think it’s going to be a long-term project,” she laughs.
“I’ve promised the other nurses that I’ll keep making quilts until I use up all their scrubs.” 

The families of the preemie babies love the quilts also. “They get to know which isolette holds their baby by which quilt is on it,”she continues. The cheerful quilts help soften the hospital environment and bring some comfort to the families who are dealing with a deeply stressful situation.

“My children were all born healthy, and I never had to be on the other side of NICU as a parent,” Needles notes. “I’ve had so many blessings and I’m happy to be able to use my talent to give something back. All the NICU nurses want to do anything we can do for the parents to make their journey easier.”

That “journey” is most certainly made more manageable through the dedication, compassion, and skill of the NICU nursing staff and the brightly colored isolette quilts made from their treasured scrubs.


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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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