Helping Hands: The Generosity of Quilters

nhh2016retreat-1Quilters are generous, no question about it. Perhaps it’s not surprising that people who choose to create items of warmth, beauty, and comfort are the same people who share those items, and their time and talents, with those in need.

One group that’s benefitted from the generosity of quilters is NICU Helping Hands, an organization founded in 2010 by Lisa Grubbs and her neonatologist husband Randy Grubbs. The Grubbs knew that babies at the Fort Worth medical center where Randy works received good medical care, but wanted to provide more emotional and educational support. The program has grown to include education and mentoring for NICU families, one-on-one mentoring, a financial assistance program for NICU families, and NICU Mom CONNECT, a post-NICU support group.

The Gordons, with their twins born at 24 weeks gestation. They are now 7 years old and Natalie Gordon is the program facilitator for NICU Helping Hands.


In 2013 the Angel Gown® program was added, and that’s where the generosity of quilters (and other talented sewists) comes in. The program supplies gowns and wraps to families experiencing infant loss. These lovingly constructed garments are stitched from donated wedding gowns. The nearly 200 volunteers have stitched around 5,000 gowns and wraps (for babies smaller than one pound) for families experiencing infant loss.

One of those who sews for the Angel Gown® program is Michelle Patrella of Florida. “Some in our group are quilters, some are professional seamstresses, others sew costumes for productions or are certified trainers in sewing techniques,” says Michelle, who learned about the program through an online article and has been sewing for Angel Gowns® for 2 ½ years. “I don’t think anyone doesn’t know someone—a sister or mom or best friend—who’s been affected by prematurity or an ill child. No one likes to talk about it, but it happens. It’s wonderful to make something useful at the same time I’m doing something I love.”

Wraps and gowns sewn by Michelle Patrella

While sewing may be fun, creating the gowns is an exacting process. “The items we gift to families are beautifully constructed and go through a strict quality control process,” says Lisa. “We know when families open the package they want it to be special and perfect for their baby.” To that end, the Angel Gown program holds an annual sewing retreat to teach the skills and techniques for creating the gowns. This year, 65 women came to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for lectures, participatory sessions, and camaraderie. “The gowns may be small, but the precision required and the seriousness of the purpose, those can be challenging,” says Michelle. “It’s great to be able to share tips and photos.”

The 2014 NICU Helping Hands retreat

Attendees traveled from California, Minnesota, Florida, Arkansas and Alabama on their own dime. In addition to travel expenses for the retreat, sewists donate their own thread and tools, the cost of maintaining their machines, and the postage to ship their completed gowns to Fort Worth, where the quality control team inspects and packages them. A silent auction was held at the retreat and even those who couldn’t attend were able to participate (Moda donated much-appreciated precuts to the auction). The proceeds went to defray another expense—the cost of shipping the gowns and wraps to the hospitals and families who request them.

The Angel Gown program supplies gowns and wraps to hospitals, individuals, and funeral homes in 48 states. “When you do something like this, I believe you should do it with excellence and our seamstresses do,” says Lisa. “They are committed, kind, and generous women (and one man). It’s awesome.”

Some of the 200 gowns and wraps, sewn from donated wedding dresses, by Michelle Patrella of Florida.

Michelle Patrella, who has sewn around 200 gowns and wraps, enjoys volunteering for Angel Gowns because she can work at her own pace. “I work full time and so my involvement varies—I might spend two hours after work or 12 hours on the weekend,” she says. But there’s much more than convenience at play here. “When you hear stories from people with personal experience of infant loss you realize how much you’ve made a difference. We don’t do it for thanks, we do it for comfort, but to know that you personally touched someone means a lot.”


For more information about NICU Helping Hands, including information on their programs and volunteer opportunities, visit their website (The organization is working through a backlog of wedding gowns and not accepting additional gowns until further notice.)

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12 thoughts on “Helping Hands: The Generosity of Quilters

  1. My friend started a group that takes wedding dresses and makes Angel gowns here in southwest Michigan.

  2. we have a group based in Huston, Texas, AngleGownsByDiane, and we send gowns all over, where ever they are needed. Coast to Coast. And we will be Branching out into HI very soon.. Check us out on FB or our website

  3. Very proud to be a seamstress for NICU Helping Hands! These are some of the best people I have ever worked with, and the little garments they make are lovely. It is an honor to have my work next to theirs. Thanks for featuring Michelle’s beautiful gowns and wraps!!! I am one of many NICU Helping Hands volunteers in Michigan- our seamstresses really do come from all over!

  4. Are there any groups in the Ft. Lauderdale/Pompano area? Can these gowns be sewn at home or do they have to be in group form? Is there an educational meeting in my area coming up? Thank you for a response. Terry

    1. Please check the links to contact NICU Helping Hands and they can answer your questions. I’m afraid I don’t have that information (except that people DO sew at home).

  5. This is a much better use of a wedding gown that the trend in some places of destroying the dress. A wonderful way to reach out and support families that are going through an unspeakable loss.

  6. I’m looking for someone to do this to my wedding dress. Anyone in Columbia Basin area in Washington State that does this, please contact me. Thanks.

  7. I believed no to a Craft Guild in Coral Springs, FL and would love to know if there is a need in our area for these…

  8. Iam very interested since years ago my job was to release bodies from the morge. We had this one where we had to release the body to the parents who had nothing. I was only 17 at the time. I found a beautiful white dress in the items we got in from charity, so I washed the baby and got her dresses so beautiful. I will never forget the mother when I gave her the baby to take home and she was so beautiful in her white dress and blanket. The mother had to get a permit so I could release the body to be buried in the back yard.
    I now have time and do a lot of charity sewing. I would love to sew for the babies.

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