The Ties That Bind
Ceci Bennett, a Southwest Idaho Casting for Recovery volunteer, takes over our blog this week to talk more about their retreat quilts along with the magic and messages they hold, hung high.
After two years of careful planning by one special woman, our very first Idaho Casting for Recovery retreat was held in the spring of 2007.
In 2005, Joanne Elston, the coordinator and leader of the Washington State retreat, was building a second home in Idaho. She was slightly appalled to learn there was no retreat program in Idaho yet. Our subsequent volunteer staff quickly learned that this dedicated breast cancer survivor and CfR alum was going to make that actually happen, big time.
Joanne brought three things with her to our first retreat: her entire Washington retreat staff & supplies to mentor & guide us; her hilariously unique dry wit and humor; and, very curiously, fourteen pieces of plain cotton fabric, each about 12 inches square.
It turns out Joanne was a highly skilled quilter. And in the vein of Tibetan Prayer squares, she gave each retreat participant the option to decorate and annotate her own cotton square with assorted fabric pens and crafting supplies. But Joanne didn’t instruct us to string them up and fly them as traditional prayer flag banners. For the several years she was our retreat coordinator, she went home after each retreat and sewed them into beautiful quilts; fourteen personalized fabric squares in a quilt that reflected each unique retreat and represented each participant’s special thoughts and existence.
They are hung at every one of our retreats and we also display them at expos and outreach venues whenever possible. We are honored that they have also been used in the past to decorate the walls at CfR National’s annual Cast One for Hope fundraiser dinner event.
Over the years, we’ve had guest quilters who stepped up to give Joanne a break from the time-consuming sewing. And even after Joanne retired from volunteering for Casting for Recovery a few years ago and moved from Idaho, this retreat tradition continues on.
I usually sew them up now although I am not a quilter, just a seamstress. And they are more like single ply coverlet designs, not full-on quilts. But that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the “quilts,” intricate or simply sewn, still live on and all our past CfR participants live harmoniously together within them.
Hung high, our retreat quilts will forever deliver their messages as one patched-together chorus and indelible voice cursing breast cancer, saluting sisterhood, instilling hope, inspiring compassion, pleading to higher beings, bowing to nature, praying for health, wrestling with demons, asking for explanations, nodding to the fish gods, shedding fears, releasing emotions, communicating with the universe, celebrating new friends, passing on love, thanking loved ones, praising Casting for Recovery.
And, not to lose the mojo after this year’s canceled retreat due to the coronavirus pandemic, I sewed up a commemorative “COVID” quilt during our stay-in-place quarantine. My hope is that our staff will write and decorate it with their sentiments about the virus, the missed retreat, the program in general… whatever.
Then, at our next retreat in 2021, it too will hang with the quilts of retreats past, and it too will relay those important messages, cherished memories, and colorful expressions to those new and old to Casting for Recovery.