Quilt SOS Visit to The SOS Children’s Village of Islice

We’ve recently arrived back from Latvia to deliver the Quilt SOS quilts to the children of the SOS Children’s Village in Islice.  Below is our story of the trip.  

We took 65 beautiful quilts, made by our lovely customers, and personally delivered them to the children. Each year we choose a village run by the international charity SOS Children’s Villages.  We then coordinate the making of enough quilts so that every child in the village receives a beautiful hand-made gift of a quilt.

Quilt SOS

We are always overwhelmed by the loving generosity of our customers,  a few made multiple quilts for the project this year so that we could take a quilt to each child in the village.  We have to say a massive thank you to everyone who has made a quilt not only this year but for all of the previous years we have been running the project.  We have now taken over 260 quilts to children in 4 different SOS Children’s Villages which seems like a huge achievement.

Jenni Smith (Instagram @jennismithsews) came to visit the studio before our trip to film us and some of the quilters about the project.  It was really fun working with Jenni for her ‘Just One Quilt’ film project.  The project talks to quilters in a short film every week about why they quilt and sew.  It was lovely to have Suzanne Campion (@suzanne.campion) and Sue Davis (@suedavishaller) here to talk about why they made a Quilt SOS quilt.  You can find out more about Jenni’s project here.

Quilt SOS

Our trip:  Day 1:

It was an extremely early start for our visit to Latvia this year.  We left at 2.30am from Gloucestershire to go via Ryan Air from East Midlands Airport.  Having packed the five large bags of quilts on the previous Friday, thanks to the wonderful folding and packing of Louise in the studio, we were all ready to go.  It’s such an exciting feeling to leave with the right number of quilts meaning every single child in the village would receive one.  

Although 2am is a shocking time to get up and leave, the plus side is that there is virtually no other traffic on the roads at this time meaning a speedy journey time.  After saying a temporary goodbye to the quilts at the airport (which is always rather difficult) we boarded the plane.  The 2.5 hour flight was hugely helped by getting our hands stuck into EPP.  We were working on the latest QBOM project ‘Jewel Palace Quilt’ and busily making one of the blocks to get ready for the launch.  The flight was rather turbulent and we can both recommend a bit of English Paper Piecing to de-stress.  It really made the flight whizz past.

We arrived in Riga, Latvia at around lunchtime (Latvian time) which having left at 2am felt rather like the evening.  Seeing the 5 bags of quilts on the luggage reclaim carousel was such a relief – we almost whooped with joy when they arrived around the corner.

We found a lovely man at the hire car company.  He helped us into the car with the 5 huge bags having to re-arrange them several times to get them to fit in.  He was so helpful and spoke perfect English which was a good job as sadly our Latvian is non-existent.

After checking into the hotel, we went for a wander through the streets of Riga.  It was ‘Latvian Freedom Fighters’ Remembrance Day’ in Latvia on 11th November and on this day, Latvia lights up numerous candles to commemorate the Latvia Army’s victory over the West Russian Volunteer Army on November 11th 1919. There were many people lighting candles, tanks in the streets and in the evening, people walking past the window with lit torches.  Independence was lost again after the 2nd World War but was regained again in 1991. We were told later by Sanita in the SOS Children’s village that this is a really special day in Latvia.

Energy levels fading, we were delighted to find a super cool cafe / restaurant (as recommended in a guide to 48 hours in Riga) called Pagalms (Insta @_pagalms_) where we ate delicious food and may have sneaked in a hot toddy.  An early night was needed to offset the early start and the big day the next day.

Quilt SOS

Day 2:

We had some more time in the morning to do a bit of sight seeing.  Most of our spare 2 hours was spent in the amazing Riga market.  Riga is a really beautiful city which is to be recommended for a short break.  There are many beautiful historic buildings and the trip to the market alone is worth the travel.  Huge market halls are filled with food, places to eat, stalls filled with products from bees and of course Latvian knitted products in every colour and design.  In the outdoor market, every other stall sells hand knitted socks and leg warmers in distinctive Latvian patterns. Walking beyond the market was like walking back in time to the 1930’s, unchanged buildings and streets. 

At lunchtime, we started our drive to the village of Islice which was about 1.5 hours away.  It was an interesting drive to say the least.  The road was one of the most dangerous we have ever travelled on.  It was the main road leaving Riga, driven a bit like a motorway but with only 1 lane each way and no central reservation – eek! We stopped every now and then to take pictures of the beautiful quilts in interesting settings.  There were communist bus shelters at regular intervals, beautiful pine forests and a vast agricultural landscape.  

We made it to the SOS Children’s Village of Islice by around 3pm where we were met by the lovely and very welcoming Sanita.  We carried the heavy bags into the common room and spread them carefully out so that the children could see them all when they arrived to choose.  They had made us food and laid it out in the next door kitchen – we were encouraged to eat and drink before the children came to the room.  Eventually the children started to arrive with excitement mixed with intrigue.  They came to the common room a house at a time which meant that they had lots of time to choose their quilt carefully.  As each group of children arrived, Sanita would explain the project to them and talk about the people who had made them. She took great joy in translating the messages on the back of many of the quilts to the children.  These were received with wonder and fascination by the children – they loved them. The speech and language therapist, Inese came in and saw the pile of quilts too. She marvelled at each quilt and their beauty and talked about her love of sewing and that she wanted to try and make one herself.  We have sent her some Liberty fabric so that she can make her sewing dreams come true.

Quilt SOS

Sadly, we can’t show the pictures of the children with their quilts here as they are all understandably protected from the public eye.  A group of boys, who were around 12 years old, spent absolutely ages choosing.  They especially loved the messages as Sanita read them out – one from Louise which said ‘Especially for you’.  One girl chose a beautiful butterfly quilt and loved the message from Sheila – she eventually piped up “I speak very good English”.  She had been really quiet up until this point, taking in the atmosphere in the room and carefully picking out the quilt she wanted.  Another little girl was really struggling to find a quilt and then we held up one with castles on it and her face turned into a broad smile of delight.  Another boy couldn’t find anything he wanted until we help up a hot air balloon quilt which he clung to his chest tightly.

You can see the village in the pictures below.  There are 12 houses in this village – each housing around 6 children, a house ‘mother’ and a house ‘aunt’.

Quilt SOS

After all of the children had chosen their quilts, we spent some time talking to Sanita about the village and her own personal life.  She has 2 jobs and 3 boys of her own – all quite young.  We laughed and talked about the similarities of our own children with hers.  

It has been an absolute pleasure working on this project this year.  To see the faces of the children as they choose their quilt makes everything worthwhile.

We can’t wait for next year!

Love Alice & Anna xxx