Colouring a white winter

Two spools of purple yarn sit on top of comforter top

For Judy Hildebrand of Crystal City, Man., brightly coloured comforters add cheer to long prairie winters.

Hildebrand is a seasoned Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) comforter maker and member of a local church-organized group that gathers to assemble them. She says the blankets are delightful to work with.

“For me, it’s just total enjoyment and knowing that [they] will go where they’re needed,” she says.

The Crystal City Ladies Aid began making MCC comforters in the basement of Crystal City Mennonite Church more than 50 years ago. Since their humble beginnings, the church group has donated thousands of comforters to provide relief and comfort to families experiencing disaster and conflict around the world.

In recent years, the group’s long-standing tradition has been bolstered with the launch of MCC’s Great Winter Warm-up and through creative partnerships with neighbours, Holdeman women and a community quilting group.

The Great Winter Warm-up was introduced as an MCC centennial volunteer event in January 2020. Comforter makers across Canada and the U.S. were encouraged to host comforter-tying events, introducing their wider communities to comforter-making and working towards a collective goal to finish 6,500 comforters in support of MCC’s relief efforts.

The Crystal City church group hosted a local event with approximately 60 community members in attendance — participants ranging from young children to teenagers, families, men, women and older adults.

“It was just such an exciting day,” says Elfrieda Tiessen, a long-standing church volunteer and sewist. The collective efforts of just 60 residents contributed approximately 200 comforters towards the inaugural Great Winter Warm-up total.

While COVID-19 prevented a local Great Winter Warm-up the following year, the 2020 event energized the Crystal City church group and their community partners.

After the pandemic hit, Tiessen helped mobilize the collective to sew and tie comforters from home. She filled her trunk with brightly coloured comforters and delivered them to neighbours who tied the backing, fibre fill and tops together with cotton or yarn.

A woman in a winter coat stands by the open truck of a hatchback car. Inside the car are piles of colorful comforters.
Elfrieda Tiessen next to a trunk full of the Crystal City group's finished comforters. Photo courtesy of Elfrieda Tiessen

The activity brought a sense of purpose to community members who were unable to get out due to weather conditions and pandemic restrictions.

“There must be something about tying those comforters that people really get into because we just can’t keep up,” says Hildebrand with a laugh.

The group pooled their efforts, sewing and tying from home, to compete with their record-breaking 2020 total over both of the past two winters. In 2022, the Crystal City group finished more than 180 comforters.

Gord Letkeman, MCC Manitoba activities coordinator, receives the group’s blanket loads at the Plum Coulee MCC Warehouse each winter.

Looking ahead to the new year, Hildebrand and Tiessen hope their group will be able to gather to assemble comforters in the church basement again, aiming to rival their 200-comforter record.

To learn more about MCC comforter-making, visit