Woman Finds Unfinished Quilting Project At Estate Sale, Instagram Followers Help Her Finish It

by Angela Andaloro

There are hidden treasures all around us, waiting to be found. Many people go to garage sales and estate sales looking for that little something that brings joy, whether it’s a collectible or something more practically used.

Shannon Downey is a self-proclaimed “artist, craftivist, community builder.” She’s also a regular estate sale shopper. In an epic Twitter thread, Shannon explained how one of her recent finds turned into a once-in-a-lifetime project.

Shannon likes to go to estate sales and find uncompleted embroidery projects. She believes the souls can’t rest until that one project they left behind is seen through to completion. During one visit to an estate sale, she discovered a remarkable piece that she just had to take home.

There was also an unfinished quilting project, complete with plans and directions for completion. Shannon didn’t know much about quilting but felt compelled to take this project home. With the internet’s help, she’s learned about the crafter who started it all, and she’s getting that project done.

Shannon Downey regularly visits estate sales in search of incomplete embroidery projects. She feels like completing those projects helps the souls of those who left them behind rest, which is a really lovely sentiment.

Shannon found a beautifully embroidered map of the United States that showcased each state’s flower. She also found an incomplete quilting project, which was set to feature another map, this time with state birds. Shannon bought the unfinished project for $6.

rita's quilting project

Shannon did some research and found out the woman who lived at the home she purchased it from was named Rita Smith. Rita started the project shortly before she died at 99 years old. The information made Shannon even more determined to finish Rita’s project.

Shannon reached out to her community on Instagram to find people who were interested in helping her complete the stitching project, now dubbed #RitasQuilt. Over 1,000 volunteers agreed to help.

Shannon got to work organizing mailing addresses to determine who would get which of the 100 hexagons. It took a lot of organization, but it became a pretty emotional project for Shannon, who wanted nothing more than to finish what Rita had started.

shannon downey rita quilting project

Shannon headed to the post office, where she learned each package would require three different types of stamps. So she sat there, applying 300 stamps before being able to mail the packages out to eager stitching volunteers.

The stitchers also started doing some research about Rita as they awaited their packages. They discovered her maiden name, that she was originally from Canada, and that she worked as a nurse. They even found her high school yearbook photo!

The stitchers are now starting to receive their hexagons. They’re trying to honor what Rita started by using her map to get the style and technique just right so that the finished product will totally match.

As the packages arrive at their destinations, the stitchers are eager to get to work. Many of them are sharing their progress on the hexagons with all of those who are following #RitasQuilt on Instagram.

It’s fascinating watching how many different people are able to master Rita’s style and get the feel of the quilt down with the information they’ve been given. The work seems far from easy, but they’re tackling it beautifully.

Many people are commending Shannon for organizing this tremendous project. By being able to get the hexagons to these stitchers, she’s also shared Rita’s story with hundreds, if not thousands, of people who wouldn’t know otherwise.

The project has also inspired many people to try to pick up projects their loved ones have left behind. Who knows how many projects will be completed thanks to Shannon’s discovery of Rita’s work?

There are already talks of where the quilt might be displayed once it’s completed, from museums to libraries to a possible tour around the country. It would be a wonderful way to honor Rita and what has come together in her honor.

As for the quilting, Shannon found 30 quilters in her area who will work to put the hexagons together once they’ve all been completed and sent back to her. We can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like!