NIVERVILLE, Man. – Cornelius Harder retired from farming many years ago, but as he approaches his 92nd birthday he still maintains the strong work ethic of his youth.
The work that keeps him busy these days is making patchwork blankets for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
“I don’t make anything fancy, but they are warm,” said Harder. “I’ve got another 20 that are ready to go to MCC.”
Harder started making blankets for MCC in 1994 and over the years he has made more than 2,000 blankets that have been distributed to people experiencing poverty, war and disasters in many countries.
Until three years ago, he made each blanket from scratch – selecting the fabric, cutting quilt blocks, creating a design, sewing the blocks together and securing the blanket with hand-tied knots.
He still cuts fabric into quilt blocks, but in recent years he picks up as many bags of pre-cut patches as he can from MCC’s Material Resource/Activity Centre in Winnipeg. This fabric is donated to the resource center by individuals or churches and cut into patches by volunteers.
Harder and his late wife, Agnes, moved to Winnipeg in 1988. His wife passed away in 2007. In 2009 Harder moved into the Niverville Credit Union Manor, a residential facility for seniors in Niverville – a 20-minute drive south of Winnipeg.
“After retirement, I couldn’t sit around – I still can’t; I should already, but I can’t,” said Harder. “I have good eyesight. I can read whenever I want to read. I’m thankful for that, but I don’t have time to read – I have to work.”
His wife, he said, had spent countless hours making items for MCC’s newborn kits and that inspired him to buy a sewing machine for $15 from their daughter-in-law and start making blankets.
Harder’s only experience with sewing was his childhood fascination with his mother’s Singer treadle sewing machine. “I just peddled, I didn’t sew,” he said. His mother would remove the thread when he peddled the machine, he recalled, because thread in those days was too expensive to be wasted.
The first blanket he made was a denim picnic blanket made from old jeans. “I made a lot of those,” he said. At first he used pre-cut patches, but soon “friends and family brought me jeans and I started cutting my own patches.” These blankets were sold at MCC relief sales.
It didn’t take long before he realized his pool table was the perfect size for cutting patches and designing blankets. “I could spread out the whole blanket – I can’t do that here,” he said.
Harder doesn’t have space in his two-bedroom suite for a pool table, but he is happy that he has an extra bedroom for sewing blankets.
When he is not sewing, he enjoys spending time with his family, which includes one great, great grandchild.
Each year, MCC ships thousands of blankets and kits to people in need throughout the world. Visit http://mcc.org/kits for more information about kits and blankets or contact your nearest MCC office.