Brightly-hued and tastefully designed, Harriet Notten’s quilts are symbolic of her commitment to the pro-life issue.
Each square linking to another, like the continuity of the life chains that she has organized. Warm and soft to the touch, like Notten’s approach to expectant mothers.
“I hope they save babies. I hope each one is a baby,” she says, sitting in the warmth of her Rexdale home, where she painstakingly sews each quilt.
Hanging on the wall behind her is a large multi-colored quilt: on one of the squares, Notten has sewn the rose that is symbolic of the pro-life movement.
It has taken Notten one day to sew a small quilt designed for a baby. Each quilt is given to a woman who has decided not to have an abortion.
Joanne Dieleman, director of Aid to Women, the Gerrard Street crisis pregnancy centre, says the quilts often help women to make the final decision not to abort.
“It often makes the final decision that somebody cared enough for her baby that she didn’t know,” Dieleman told The Interim.
Notten, a 70-year-old Catholic grandmother, prays over each quilt as she sews, praying for the unborn.
“Each quilt is a part of me,” she says. “I’ll pray for the mother until the end of her life. We are not rich, but I can afford to buy the materials.”
It costs her less than $10 to make a quilt, and Notten has literally made hundreds of them. At 73, Notten’s husband, Tim, is a retired consultant. The couple immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1957.
It was her children, Lynn, 37, Mark 36 and John, 34, who first got her interested in the pro-life movement. When the children were in high school, they would talk about pro-life. But Notten only became involved in pro-life activities after retiring from her job as supervisor of accounts payable.
In 1992, she became involved in life chains. She keeps a list of each life chain that she organized in her parish. As pro-life co-ordinator for the parish, she usually has a turnout of 100 people for a life chain.
In 1993, she began to quilt for the first time in her life, making quilts for the unborn. “I have a great concern for people who don’t want to keep their children. It’s very little what I can do,” she says. “The quilts symbolize warmth, protection, softness, love and care.”
When she’s not sewing quilts, organizing life chains or visiting pro-lifers in prison, Notten volunteers at a hospital. As pastoral volunteer, she takes Holy Communion to patients. “Pro-life is not a favorite topic to discuss. It’s embarrassing almost,” she says.
By making her quilts, she is humanizing the issue, reaching out to pregnant women with something soft and practical.
Dieleman says it is the people behind the front lines, like Notten, who make the difference to the pro-life movement.
“We are very grateful to Harriet. She’s a lovely lady, a sincere Christian and so dedicated to the plight of the unborn,” Dieleman says.
(Nipa Mukerji is a Toronto-based writer and lawyer)