Winner of the First-Ever PaperGirl Essay Contest: Lori Fontaine of Canada!

posted in: PaperGirl Mailbag 29
Included in Lori's letter, scanned in by me.
Included in Lori’s letter, scanned in by me.

Congratulations, Canada: You are lucky to claim Ms. Lori Fontaine, who has won first place in the first-ever PaperGirl Leaders & Enders Essay Contest.

Our veterinarian Kristin communicated honestly the healing power of quilts in our personal lives. Kathleen’s essay expressed the pure joy of making, the inspiration around every corner, as well as the pricelessness of quilting friends.

But Lori Fontaine, you made me weep. Mom, too. I could hardly get it together as I read through your essay the first, second, and third time. Really, the contest was yours at “plastic sheeting.” With humility and plain speech, you told the story of the power of quilts and the heart of a quilter. Thank you, and thank you to your group. May you make quilts a long time and put them in the mail.

My leaders and enders are yours, Fontaine. I’ll be in touch soon and congratulations. (I’ve left in all your funny Canadian spellings. They’re neat!)

1st Place Winner
Lori Fontaine

“Trust me when I tell you you’ll want to quilt it and hand-tie it,” she said. 


“Because they don’t have Maytag washers in the Third World. That quilt’ll be pounded on the rocks to be cleaned.”

Well, that made it clear. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the bright colours or the design; this was about the reality, which was scary. A stranger would treasure my work enough to clean it using back-breaking labour, scrubbing it on rocks, probably in muddy water. It would perhaps be the only treasure that person would ever possess. So my little quilt, with its wonky seams, had the ability to erase even for a second the world of not enough to eat, the constant scream of poverty.

That first quilt — how many lifetimes ago! — went to Nepal. A child receiving life-changing surgery was given a quilt rather than the plastic sheeting that was typically used during post-op. We were told to make the colours bright and happy, to make the quilts for boys or girls. 

About five months later, our quilt group was asked to attend a slideshow so we could see the facility where the surgeries had been performed by volunteer doctors, nurses, and other kind souls that wanted to make a difference. There was a handful of photos scattered on an eight-foot table at the front of the room, but I was at the back, chatting with a friend and didn’t bother to look at them. 

When the lights went down, we looked into their eyes. The eyes of strangers that were receiving our love from Canada. There were smiles reaching through a lens to greet those that wanted to help from so far away, even a little bit. 

The world became so tiny. 

I went to the front of the room and looked at the photos on the table. Then, my eyes got wet and I could no longer see clearly. My little quilt, with its bright yellow fabrics, was wrapped around a child with big brown eyes. A printed banner above the image said, “Thank you, quilters.” 

My back doesn’t ache when I’m working on a quilt that’s going overseas. It’s always, “Just one more stitch, then I’ll head to bed…”

The quilt I’m working on now is an explosion of bright fabrics featuring creatures of the sea. Dolphins, coral, electric rainbow fish. Wherever on the planet this one lands, my name will be on the back. A stranger from Canada, sending love. Beating back some of the darkness that lives in the world, the only way she knows how.