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Piece by Piece

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.” About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River…Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son. The princess named him “Moses,” for she explained, “I lifted him out of the water.”

-Story of Moses; Exodus 1:22-2:1-4; 2:10 (New Living Translation)


For the past 10 years, a small group of women have gathered every first and third Tuesday morning in the fellowship hall of Salem United Methodist Church in Havana. 

Piece by piece, they transform donated scraps of fabric into quilts and quilted toys to give to pregnant women in need. The items created by their labor of love are gathered into “Moses Baskets” – a name that pays homage to the Biblical story of Moses’ mother saving him by placing him in a basket to circumvent the Pharaoh’s order to drown all newborn Hebrew boys.

“Quilting is taking little bits of things and putting them together,” Priscilla Bell, a charter member of the Tuesday morning group, said. “It’s making something from nothing.” 

In 2009, Sheila Callahan gave a presentation to the United Methodists’ Women’s (UMW) group about the Moses Baskets she made with her mother. For years the mother-daughter duo made the baskets, filled with items for newborn babies, and donated them to the Florida Department of Health – to be given away to pregnant women upon their completion of the Healthy Start prenatal class. Callahan’s presentation about her efforts sparked the interest of the Havana UMW ladies, and they began meeting – first to learn how to quilt, and then to start preparing and donating their own versions of Moses Baskets. Since those first meetings in 2009, the group has given away nearly 500 baskets to women who arrive at area pregnancy resource centers looking for help.

Their two-bushel laundry baskets are fitted with a plastic-protected foam mattress and a liner to protect little exploring fingers. Baskets are then filled with two mattress pads, four sheets, a quilt, a fleece blanket and three receiving blankets – all painstakingly hand-sewn. In addition, scraps from making the sheet corners are turned into soft block toys, quilt scraps are transformed into teddy bears, and pieces of leftover fleece and other fabrics become “taggies” – tactile toys of different textures and sizes for babies to explore. Not one piece of fabric is wasted; other leftovers are used to make bibs, washcloths, caps and burp cloths. If there have been donations of diapers or infant clothes, those items are lovingly packed into the baskets, as well.

Once a month, the baskets are brought to the altar at Salem United Methodist Church, where they are blessed before being distributed to soon-to-be mothers at pregnancy resource centers in Havana, Quincy and Tallahassee.

Seamstress Mary Howard once sewed costumes for performers in Branson, Missouri; now she spends much of her time sewing items for Moses Baskets. 

“If you’re at Wal-Mart and see a little baby wrapped up in a quilt you made – it thrills you,” she said, gesturing with those hands that have sewn for so many. “The trail of where it goes is in God’s hands. You never know where it will go.”
Longtime group member Caroline Britton agreed. 

“To me, it’s beautiful,” she remarked while folding blankets and smoothing little pink beanies embellished with delicately embroidered flowers. “We all work together, and it just warms your heart!”

Although she has sewn many times for family and friends, Bell noted that almost everything she sews these days is for Moses Baskets. She remembers taking her first quilting class back in the early 1980s, but her memories of a community of quilters goes back much further than that. 

“There was a group of ladies who quilted at my church when I was a little girl,” Bell recalled with a fond smile. “I remember playing under the quilt frame while they talked and the quilting went on above my head. There’s just something about quilts. A quilt feels good – it’s just comforting.” She carefully tucks a teddy bear into a basket, the finishing touch that makes it all ready for another infant to lay its head on a quilt that has been created and prayed over, piece by piece.

The Moses Baskets ladies invite anyone who is interested to attend their meetings at 9 a.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. No sewing experience needed – all hands are welcome!  Any donations of cotton fabric – both scraps and yardage – are also welcome. Fabric donations can be dropped off at Salem United Methodist Church – 202 E. 9th Street, Havana – during office hours. “Piece by Piece” is the second in a series of stories related to local quilters and quilting to be featured in The Herald throughout the month of September.

By Tammy Dasher