Stitched with love Stitched with love Stitched with love

Sharon Thayer's quilting started as a retirement hobby. Five hundred quilts later, it's become much more.

By Rachel Gallaher | Photos by Ron Wurzer | June 2024 issue

In 2002, after a long and fulfilling career as a social worker at Harborview Medical Center, Sharon Thayer, ’62, decided to retire. But it wasn’t because she was burnt out or ready to slow down—she loved working at the hospital and enjoyed socializing with her coworkers and patients. Thayer, who grew up in Spokane and had raised two sons (also UW alums) in Edmonds, was ready to get serious about her hobbies.

One hobby she finally had more time for was quilting. In 2016, she started volunteering with the UW Medical Center and Harborview’s Comfort Care Quilt Program, which provides handmade quilts for patients in palliative care. In her eight years with the program, Thayer has made more than 500 quilts, recruited more than 20 volunteers and been instrumental in keeping her fellow volunteers engaged with frequent sewing work parties.

Introduced to the Comfort Care Quilt Program by its founder, Carol Kummet, Thayer was drawn to its values of empathy and humanity—seeing the patient as a human being with hopes, dreams and interests, not just a diagnosis. Often, the quilts that patients choose reflect their personalities. 

“Carol believes that the quilt finds the person and not the other way around,” Thayer says, “and that is 100% true. The staff will ask the patient about their favorite color, hobbies, and things they love, and then they will go through the quilts and try to find the right one. One time, there was a young father in the hospital dying, and their child was sitting in the room holding a sock monkey. The staff member went to find him a quilt, and there happened to be one with a sock monkey on it.” Another time, a cherry farmer from Eastern Washington said he loved red, and the nurse came back with a cherry-themed quilt.

Thayer is quick to give credit to her fellow volunteers and everyone involved in the program. “It’s such a fabulous volunteer program,” she says. “We get as much or more out of it than the patients. I feel such a satisfaction that my humble hobby can make such a difference in someone’s life.”

Sharon Thayer is the recipient of the UW-UWRA Distinguished Retiree Award, which celebrates a UW retiree or team of UW retirees for excellence in service post-retirement that exemplifies the University’s values with special distinction.