How about a little Log Cabin with your litigation? Maybe some Dresden Plate with your depositions?
Pardon our reach for a cheap laugh, but you’ll understand when you learn about a most unusual quilting group happily sheltered within Irell & Manella, a high-wattage law firm in Century City, California.
For about eight years, the IM Quilters have made quilts, shared stitching time, traded tips and enjoyed the fellowship of the cloth within the walls of Irell’s offices in the greater Los Angeles area. Most of the group’s quilts are donated to City of Hope (COH), a nearby comprehensive cancer center. Through raffles, the IM Quilters also raise funds for other charities. And they do all this with the blessing of Irell management, which supports the group with a dedicated workroom space, annual quilting speakers and workshops and new sewing machines.
Beats a company picnic all to heck, doesn’t it?
There was a bit of synergy involved in the start-up of the IM Quilters and the group’s longtime association with its key recipient. In 2003, Irell–which focuses on litigation, intellectual property and some entertainment law–was representing COH on business. And Irell employee Cathy Munson’s husband was receiving loving care at COH for a serious illness. And Cathy was a quilter, sometimes teaching informal quilting classes to interested co-workers.
Well, Cathy was so grateful for her husband’s care that she began making and donating quilts to COH, and her co-workers joined in. IM Quilters was launched! Since then, the group has donated 217 handmade quilts to COH and another 20 quilts to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
The quilting group started with 25 members but currently has 12 active members and three “honorary” out-of-state members—including Cathy Munson, who has since relocated to Arizona. Usually, a couple of new people join each year. Perla Rothenberg is now the leader (and lately, its chief quilter, thanks to her abilities on the mid-arm machine she has at home).
Lavialle Campbell , a legal secretary and veteran Irell employee, has been a part of the IM Quilters for the las three years. She says she loves the connection with her fellow IM quilters as much as she enjoys the actual quilting.
“I love quilting and it’s such a nice group of women. Everyone is so nice, and so caring. And we help each other out so much. It’s nice to feel like you’re not so isolated,” she says.
Also a fine artist working in printmaking, ceramic sculpture and glass, Lavialle says the quilt room at Irell is as much a haven as it is a workspace. “It‘s a nice break from the crazy legal stuff,” she says. “It’s a warm place to be.”
Members have helped to furnish the quilt room—a coveted three-window office—with irons, ironing boards, batting, fabric, tools and at least two machines. Irell management has also funded the purchase of three sewing machines to help the group with its charitable work, and the quilt room has a comfy couch to give quilters a bit of relaxation while they’re stitching.
Lavialle says the group also raises funds for other charities through its year-end annual employee raffle and dessert reception. All the quilts that are ready for donation to COH are displayed in a large conference room, alongside homemade desserts provided by the quilters and other firm members. Irell employees can purchase a dessert, as well as chances on two quilts that have been made especially for this event, and that are raffled off during the reception.
One of raffle quilts is usually a larger, “more serious” quilt, says Lavialle, and the other one a smaller, whimsical pattern. This year’s whimsical quilt has a fun, fishy theme, she says, with lots of appliquéd batik fish.
Proceeds from the eagerly awaited annual event can range from $1,300 to $1,600, she says. A committee within the firm picks a different recipient each year for the funds.
Then, soon after the reception, available quilt group members hop aboard a law firm-sponsored minivan for the trip to COH, where they officially give the quilts to a very excited hospital staff.
Although the group is not technically a “guild,” Lavialle says the law firm’s support makes it possible for the quilters to enjoy one of the chief benefits that come from guild membership, namely presentations and workshops from nationally known teachers. Last year, Elsie Campbell of Aunt Mimi’s Quiltworks in Dodge City, Kansas, brought her trunk show, and this summer, Karolyn Nubin Jensen fromTucson, Arizona, taught about appliqué.
This may seem like a quilter’s dream, says Lavialla, but put it all in perspective. This is part of the law firm’s commitment to employee wellness. The quilting group is as much as part of Irell’s health enhancement plan as the corporate gym, the on-site Weight Watchers group and the twice-a-year pedometer competitions.
Even non-quilting employees get a positive buzz from the quilt group, Lavialle says. “If there are two or more of us…we get such nice reactions from people If they see us together. They say ‘We know where you’re going.’ It just seems to spread a good mood around.”