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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Volunteers Around U.S. Complete Late Woman’s Unfinished Quilt, Now It’s Going On Display

Dozens of volunteers from across the United States worked on Rita's quilt after a Rogers Park woman asked for help finishing the project.

Rita Smith (right) died before being able to finish a large, detailed quilt, so embroiderer Shannon Downey has enlisted volunteers to help finish the blanket.
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CHICAGO — Dozens of people from around the country came together to help a Rogers Park woman finish a fellow crafter’s elaborate quilt after she died — and the project will be on display this month.

The story of Rita’s quilt has been shared nationwide: Shannon Downey, of Rogers Park, was at an estate sale in suburban Mount Prospect when she came across an unfinished quilting project from Rita Smith, who died earlier this year. Downey couldn’t leave the project undone but, once she realized how large and elaborate it would be, knew she needed help.

Downey posted about the quilt project on Instagram and dozens of people from across the United States offered to help with embroidering the quilt’s pieces. Once all the pieces were embroidered, Chicago volunteers helped Downey with the quilting part of the project.

Once done, the quilt will feature a map of the United States — which was made by Smith before her death — surrounded by hexagons representing the individual states. Each hexagon has an outline of the state, the state flower and bird and stitched writing noting when the state entered the union.

The quilt will also have 50 stars, one for each state, and will be bordered in a red, white and blue quote.

By herself, the project would have taken Downey years. But with all the volunteers, she now plans to have it done and on display at a pop-up show on Dec. 21.

The pop-up show will mark the first public appearance of Rita’s quilt. After that, Downey is fundraising so she can bring the quilt to all 5o states.

The quilt will eventually be sent to the National Quilt Museum in Kentucky.

The show runs 2-4 p.m. Dec. 21 at Woman Made Gallery, 2150 S. Canalport Ave. Besides Rita’s quilt, there will be other pieces of art themed around “Badass Herstory.”

Those interested in following Downey’s and the volunteers’ work can search the hashtag #RitasQuilt on Instagram.

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