Founded in 2001, Mekong Quilts was created as the social enterprise of its parent organisation, Mekong Plus Nonprofit organization, to help underprivileged women in the Mekong Delta supplement their income through sustainable employment.
Having expanded its line of products over the years, Mekong Quilts now offers a wide range of fabric products, souvenirs, and environmentally friendly wearables including designer face masks and water hyacinth fibre bags.
With all that said, the soul of Mekong Quilts is still without a doubt, its high-quality hand-sewn quilts!
What are quilts? A quick introduction
Often described as timeless, quilts are in essence bed covers made with three layers of fabric, including an internal layer of batting (cushioned padding), that provides additional comfort and insulation.
The signature patchwork designs seen on the surface layer of quilts have also become an enduring feature of quilting, with many pieces destined as contemporary arts for this very reason.
Popular in the English-speaking world as traditional bedroom essentials, quilts have evolved to take on other forms, and the same techniques are now used to create cushions, bags, and more. At Mekong Quilts, you’ll even find quilted Christmas tree skirts and advent calendars and just recently: quilted jackets!
Changing lives of women through Quilts
Due to inherent characteristics of lifestyle in the Mekong Delta, many of Mekong Quilts’ craftswomen come from single-parent families, many of which have escaped home due to abuse, or widowed because of the death of their husbands due to alcoholism-related illness and traffic accidents that are rampant in the region.
Handicraft work provides flexibility to single mothers who need to care for their children while bringing bread to the table; Mekong Quilts craftswomen are free to work from home away from the workshops.
“The additional income generated from making quilts allows many of these women to continue sending their children to school,” Bernard Kervyn, Founding Director, explained.
Ultimately, the long-term goal of the quilt-focused social enterprise is to turnover the lives of the most underprivileged in a region that sees one of the highest school drop-out rates in the country—accessibility to education is seen as a fundamental building block.
How Mekong Quilts makes quilts
Ms Phan Thi Nga has been making quilts at Mekong Quilts for more than a decade and was delighted to share details about the process with readers.
“When an order is received, an order sheet that indicates the size and an illustration of the design is handed to us,” Nga explained.
Pieces of cloth that are used to make quilts are then first submerged in soap water for a day before another day of thorough drying. The fabrics are then ironed to prevent alignment problems during sewing, and the craftswomen begin working on larger details and patchwork using sewing machines.
“Once the machine work is done, we work on the minute details using your hands,” she reminded.
Nga is now a master of both patience and fabric work, consistently producing flawlessly even stitch lines.
“You need passion [to do this]. You have to love quilts [to do this for a long time]. The lines will be uneven at the start but you improve with time!” She said, adding that most people get the hang of it after 5 or 6 months.
The finished pieces are laundered one more time before they are shipped to quilt-loving customers.
Best selling quilted items at Mekong Quilts
Amongst the most popular of Mekong Quilts’ artisanal quilt collection is the baby quilt series with colourful patchwork featuring tropical animals including the Asian Elephant, Vietnamese water oxen, and more.
The Sapa series of quilts that feature patchwork made using sustainably-acquired Hmong indigo fabric is also enduringly eye-catching and offered in the form of full-sized quilts, quilt scarves, cushions, tote bags, and even face masks.
Recently, Mekong Quilts also introduced a ‘Kyoto’ Dress that combines Japanese-style summer fashion cues with linen and indigo fabric.
As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mekong Quilts launched a series of designer reusable face masks that adopt the same patchwork creativity of its original line of quilted products.
How you can help Mekong Quilts
Beyond providing employment to its craftswomen, a large portion of Mekong Quilts’ profit goes to furthering its mission of accessible education.
In 2018, almost US$30,000, which accounts for more than 80% of Mekong Quilts’ profits, went to funding scholarships for children in the Mekong Delta.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism in Vietnam and Cambodia has suffered greatly, leading to a sharp decrease in orders and work—more than half of Mekong Quilts’ craftswomen in Madam Nga’s village have stopped sewing.
To learn more about Mekong Quilts, its products and how you can contribute to Mekong Quilts’ community efforts, visit https://mekongquilts.com/ today!