The 70,273 Project

Ok, y’all, here it is. The news I’ve teased you with for days, the guest post to end all guest posts, the project that has simply bowled me over. This is something you will want to be involved in, so grab yourself a drink, put your feet up, and give us a read.

Meet Jeanne

I would like to introduce you to my friend, Jeanne Hewell-Chambers. Jeanne and I are Facebook friends (you can find her there at Wholly Jeanne and read her blog at The Barefoot Heart). Although we have never met in the flesh, I have a sneaking suspicion that when we do actually meet, face-to-face, I will adore her.

Jeanne’s sister-in-law Nancy. You cannot beat the JOY on her face!

I don’t remember exactly where I first became aware of the work that Jeanne does, but I remember reading about her stitching out the drawings that her sister-in-law, Nancy, does. Nancy has a disability that prevents her speaking in words, but communicate she does, and Jeanne listens well. Nancy draws and draws and draws, and Jeanne stitches and stitches and stitches. Jeanne calls their collaboration, “In Our Own Words.” Jeanne has stitched out five collections of Nancy’s drawings, but just brought home the 19th set. What dedication! Reading about this touched me to the marrow. Jeanne’s ability to hear what needed to be done with Nancy’s drawings absolutely stunned me in its profundity. I emailed her right away, gushing.

Need I tell you that I was absolutely in love from the first minute? I learned very quickly that Jeanne is exuberant and funny as all get-out. She lives with her husband, The Engineer, at the top of a mountain near Cashiers, North Carolina, with a waterfall right outside her door, goes on some songful adventures, and shares my love for hot Krispy Kremes. And she stitches.  She is a talented photographer, a gifted writer, and, interestingly enough, stopped-dead-in-her-tracks by a good story. And a story it was that caused Jeanne to dream of The 70,273 Project. A true and not-good-at-all story. I will let her tell you what it was.

Friends, please welcome Jeanne Hewell-Chambers!

Hey, Jeanne, welcome! Pull up a seat and let’s have a chat. I’ll run off to the kitchen to rustle up some tea, but while I’m gone, I’d love for my readers to know exactly what it is you’re up to with this project.

“Thank you for having me here, Sugar, and listen, if it’s not too much trouble, would you bring me back a Krispy Kreme doughnut (or sixteen) to go with my tea? Now about that crazy idea I had . . .

Between January 1940 and August 1941, 70,273 physically and mentally disabled people – men, women, teens, boys, and girls – were murdered by the Nazis. Though they never even laid eyes on the disabled person they were evaluating, the Nazi doctors read the medical files and, if from the words on the page, the person was deemed “unfit” or an “economic burden on society”, the doctor placed a red X at the bottom of the form. Three doctors were to read each medical file, and when two of them made a red X on the page, the disabled person’s fate was sealed. Most were murdered within 1-2 hours.

I will commemorate these 70,273 voiceless, powerless people who were so callously and casually murdered by gathering 70,273 blocks of white fabric (representing innocence and the paper the doctors read), each bearing two red X’s (representing one person), and I will stitch them together into quilts. 

Am I crazy? Maybe. But Bones say I can’t not do this. I can’t change history – can’t unring that bell – but I can commemorate the lives of these 70,273 disabled people in this small way . . . if you’ll help. See where it says “70273” at the top of the page? If you’ll click on that, you’ll find all sorts of information about how and why to become involved. Take some time poking around the pages, and when you’re ready, join us.”

Wow, Jeanne. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I am absolutely confounded by this, angered, sickened, and frustrated, but so very excited to be able to jump in and help honor those who were murdered./

The entrance gate to Dachau. “Arbeit macht frei,” translates to, nauseatingly, “Work will set you free.” Photo courtesy

Since I lived in Germany for several years in the 1980s and 90s, visiting Dachau and other sites of “interest,” and talking with people who either remembered the Holocaust but refused to admit to any knowledge of the truth at the time or flat-out denied that it ever happened; this project pulled me right in. After I returned to the U.S. from Germany, I lived in south Florida for several years (in the mid-1990s). I met or merely saw more people than you can imagine with sets of numbers tattooed on their wrists. These were the people who witnessed the atrocities committed. They were the ones who survived.

In honor of all of them, I made these blocks:

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My sincerest thanks to Jeanne for sharing this heartfelt project with you. And my thanks to all of you for getting involved and helping Jeanne see this project come to fruition in honor of those so brutally murdered. Please be sure to visit The 70,273 Project page to learn more. In the meantime, you can follow the quick and dirty instructions below to get started. I will be adding a tutorial for pieced X-blocks very soon, just in case you prefer piecing to the other options, so do please let me know if you’re interested, and be sure to check back!

Jeanne has issued a “31-blocks-in-31-days” challenge for March. Although we are a couple of days behind, I’ll bet you can make a pretty good dent in that 31 before the end of the month. Just one block a day, that’s all. Ready, set….GO!!


To get to work on your blocks, here’s the short-form of what you need to do:

  1. Cut a rectangle of white fabric (may be cotton, cotton-poly, wool, almost anything except decorator-weight or double-knit poly) at one of three sizes: 3.5 X 6.5″, 6.5 X 9.5″, or 9.5 X 12.5″. Embellish the rectangle with two red X’s, with paint, applique, embroidery, whatever you prefer, leaving sufficient margin around the X’s for seams.
  2. Download a copy of the provenance form and pin it to your stack of blocks (yes, stack, because you are going to make more than one, right?).
  3. Mail your blocks to Jeanne
  4. Share, share, and share some more. Share everything about the project and ask for people’s help.
  5. Consider a donation to the project to help defray costs.
  6. Do it all again. And again.

If you need more information and want to read everything you can about the project before you start, visit the thoughtfully-asked questions page.

There is also a Pinterest page here where you can see some of the blocks. Now go! Make some blocks. Pretty please?