Donna Sheerin Gillis stands in her sewing room of her West Bethel home. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — “Every closet holds a story,” quilter Donna Sheerin Gillis said.

Eighteen years ago she began a vocation when her sister, a master quilter, came from Rochester, New York, for a two-week visit.

“I had appreciated the art of quilting,” Gillis said, but after that visit something clicked “and I was hooked.”

In 2005, Monique Pelletier of Bethel came to work for Gillis and her husband, John, at their restaurant, Pat’s Pizza, on Mayville Road where Gillis’ quilts were displayed on the walls. A month later, Pelletier was killed in an ATV accident.

“I had never made a T-shirt quilt before,” Gillis said. “I had never approached someone who had lost a child.” It was for Pelletier’s 1-year-old son, Mikeal, that Gillis started down a new path making clothing quilts. She wanted Mikeal to know and feel his mother.

The family gave her several bags of Pelletier’s clothing.


“I was overwhelmed,” Gillis said.

She sat with the clothing for a long time before organizing it into piles, in the end making Mikael three different quilts.

As she sorted through the T-shirts, she too, came to know Pelletier. One shirt read, “unconditional love.” Another read, “Born an original, don’t die a copy.” A third read, “Smile, it confuses people.”

She used Pelletier’s flannel pajamas, socks and fleece to create one full-size quilt. The second quilt was a martial arts wall hanging with T-shirts that read, “I do all my own stunts,” “School of Hard Knocks” and “Law town.”

It turns out Pelletier and Gillis grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

The final quilt was comprised of other T-shirts and a pair of jeans on which Pelletier had doodled her son’s name and birth date. All three quilts were bordered in the many bandannas she owned.


Throughout the process Gillis pondered what to do with a rag cap she found in one of the bags. She came upon the idea to sew it to the back of the flannel quilt. When she visited the family to give them the quilts, Mikeal put the flannel cap on his head and wore the quilt around the room like a cape. It was exactly what Gillis had hoped he would do.

After sewing her first quilt for Mikeal, Gillis started a blog and named her company Seams Undone, Texture of Life Quilts. She designs and sews clothing quilts for graduations and other life events, but more often it’s because the recipient has lost a loved one and the quilt is made from their clothes.

Once she receives the bags of clothing she takes everything out and sometimes hangs it on her clothesline.

“I sit with it” she said, “sometimes for a month.”

Next, she sketches ideas then rolls the clothes in balls to develop a color scheme. She always asks for a photograph of the person who owned the clothing and keeps it near her sewing desk. Each day she greets them with a “‘Good morning,’ I like to talk to them,” she said.

Eventually she develops a specific plan and heads to her sewing machine.


A quilt made by Donna Sheerin Gillis of Bethel for Candy Loughlin is in memory of Loughlin’s son, Joe, who died of brain cancer. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

Candy Loughlin, a part-time resident of Bethel, was referred to Gillis when her 35-year-old son died of brain cancer. As his caretaker, while he was sick, Loughlin was devastated.

“I was her release,” Gillis said. “She needed to talk to someone who knew nothing about him and just tell me his story.

“This work is definitely not for everyone,” she continued. “It’s very personal. When I’m in a project I think about it 24/7. I am engulfed.”

Loughlin had saved all her son’s clothing and together with Gillis they looked through each article. It took Gillis from November to the following July to make two quilts in Joe’s memory. Loughlin would come by every few weeks to check on the choices Gillis made, voicing her opinion but in the end approving of everything.

“Every block tells the story of him,” Gillis said.

“It’s not only the skill and the craft,” Loughlin said, “it’s love. His clothing will live on in a meaningful way.”


Loughlin uses the quilt to keep the memory of Joe alive for her grandchildren.

Clothing quilts take countless hours and Gillis the $600 to $1,000 she charges does not cover all her time. The supplies are around $100 per quilt.

Asked if quilt making is therapeutic, Gillis shared her own story.

“I lost my mother, mother-in-law, and father-in-law all in one year.” Her dad had died earlier when Gillis was 21).

“I never processed all these deaths,” she said. “This work is spiritual forming. When I’m making these I feel like I’m processing death. My quilts heal the heart that knew the soul. I believe it because I see it. It’s rewarding to do this work.”

Donna Sheerin Gillis of Bethel made a Love Notes quilt for her niece, Cathryn Scanlon, in 2017. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

For her niece, Cathryn Scanlon, Gillis made The Heart of Me from all her jeans that her mother had saved from age 1 through age 12.


“I name all my quilts,” she said.

For one titled Peace of My Heart she incorporated the wedding gown and sash of a woman who lost her husband from a heart attack.

Another quilt in the shape of a tree was for a young mother’s twin boys. The mother, Lee Manillo, had been a conservationist on Cape Cod before dying of uterine cancer when the boys were 2 days old. The tree represented her career. Each boy received one half of the tree with bees, birds and numbers to count by. Their mother’s zippers and buttons connected the two halves.

Gillis has books full of sketches and notes on each of her clothing quilts. Eventually, she’d like to write a book about her work. She names and sew-signs every quilt marking them with, “Bethel, Maine” so no matter where they may end up some day there will always be a historical record of her work.

Donna Sheerin Gillis created a quilt for herself during the COVID-19 pandemic and named it The Mask. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

Gillis’ history in Bethel began in 1989 when she and her husband bought a condominium. They loved to ski and would be on the slopes 70 to 80 times a year. Both worked for large corporations, but in 1994, they gave up that life to own the Pat’s Pizza franchise. They made their own pizza sauce and dough every day, they handmade lasagna, and eggplant parmesan, too.

They owned the restaurant for 23 years, from 1994 until 2016.

“We gave people a reasonable place to eat and it was good food,” Gillis said.

They felt like part of the community, too.

She was a member of the Bethel Historical Society for eight years. She continues to serve Bethel as library trustee and volunteer-sews for Repant!, a volunteer group that sews totes from up-cycled men’s slacks, decorated with T-shirts, fabric scraps and other textiles to keep them out of landfills. All proceeds go directly to support Bethel District Exchange programs: the Bethel Food Pantry, the Maine School Administrive District 44 backpack program, and the Smile Fund, which provides money to people who need restorative dental work.

Donna Sheerin Gillis of Bethel shows her pandemic quilt she titled The Mask. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

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