img-op-eq1Once a week a group of women students come together to learn and practice the art of quilt making. These women had little or no schooling in their native countries and attend English classes at Harbor House. Besides facing the daunting task of learning English, these women live in impoverished conditions and care for large families. They come to the quilt class in order to engage in something they love to do — creating beauty.

Diversity is key in the Harbor House quilt community. Participants come from a wide variety of cultures and share traditions from their backgrounds. Quilting is truly conducive to collaboration, and one of the thrilling parts of the Harbor House experience is how much the participants value each other’s cultural backgrounds and particular expertise.  Language differences rarely present a problem as participants have such genuine respect and affection for each other, that these differences fall away. The common thread between these individuals is the fabric of creativity that keeps everybody coming back for more.

Since 2001, our quilters have produced several hundred quilts, sold 75% of quilts, participated in many major exhibits and visited numerous shows and galleries. Our program receives donated fabric from East Bay Heritage Quilters Guild and has received grants from Grace Fellowship in San Francisco, The SF Foundation, and from the EBHQ Guild. Exhibits were held at Mills College, East Bay Mudd headquarters in downtown Oakland, and California Prudential Realty in Berkeley. The quilters have participated in the Annual Quilt Show of the Berkeley Public Library. They have sold their quilts, participating in various Craft Fairs, including the Annual Celebration of Craftswomen, a fundraiser for the Women’s Building in San Francisco, the Snow in Berkeley Festival, the Live Oak Park Fair in Berkeley, and the Berkeley Kite Festival.

Who are the artists?

The quilters are all refugee and immigrant women from Laos, Cambodia, and Latin America who are enrolled in our English as a second language class.

Why quilts?

Quilting is a fairly simple art form to which our students could bring their expertise to bear. Our goal was to help our students to:

  • connect with the wider community

  • build self-confidence and experience healing through creating beauty

  • build friendships among themselves

  • create economic opportunities for themselves and their families

What’s the story with the embroidery?

The embroidery found on some of these quilts is traditional Mien work. The Mien is a people group who comes from the mountains of Laos. This embroidery is traditionally used to decorate navy blue cotton pants, elaborate, silver studded wedding outfits, and baby carriers.

Are they for sale on Etsy? Where  can the quilts be seen and purchased?

Yes the quilts are for sale!  A portion of the proceeds from sales of these quilts goes to Harbor House to cover material costs, and the rest goes to the women themselves. The quilts can be purchased  on etsy (, at the different festivals or by contacting the teacher, Catherine Durand ( It is also possible to make an appointment to see all the quilts on Wednesdays when the class is in session.

Could I design my own quilt and have you make it for me?

Yes, we have received and fulfilled multiple orders, just this year, for custom quilts. Design your own quilt for birthdays, graduations or other special events! For more information about designing and purchasing a custom-made quilt email Catherine Durand  at

How do I get more information? How can I help?

Purchase a quilt at

To get more information, to order a quilt, to inquire how to custom design a quilt, or to get involved, please contact Catherine Durand at

The greatest need for our program in terms of materials is:

  • Batting — up to 60% poly ok

  • 100% Cotton Fabric

  • Working sewing machines

  • Notions — thread, scissors, rotary cutters, cutting mats

Financial Support

Programs at Harbor House, including the ESL Quilting Program, are primarily funded by churches, foundations, and individuals who desire to be a part of serving those in need and seeing the kingdom of God advance in the lives of young people in Oakland. You can help by donating specifically to this program.

Harbor House Quilt Project Student Bios

img-qlt-bio-bunlayBunlay: Our most prolific quilter, with a great eye for color and pattern, Bunlay survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia and fled to a refugee camp in Thailand where she learned sewing skills. She is a true artist, working hours on quilt after quilt and coming back for more. She lives near Harbor House and cares for many extended family members in her two bedroom apartment. She has been quilting since 2001. In 2006 she taught our summer quilt class, and continues to serve as our student program coordinator.


img-qlt-bio-meyMey: Mey usually prefers to remain anonymous, but we think her masterful combining of Mien embroidery with the quilting form begs a little recognition at least. Mey is considered a top embroiderer in the Mien community. She lives close to Harbor House and has studied English off and on for the many years here at Harbor House.


Iimg-qlt-bio-ivettevette: Ivette lives just a few blocks from Harbor House with her three children and husband. She is from Guatemala. She started making quilts in the summer of 2006, and enjoys motifs such as the house and boat blocks. She loves to sing and to laugh during our quilt classes!


img-qlt-bio-giselaGisela: Gisela comes from Mexico. She is very proud of her two sons who are now working as mechanics in Oakland. She is fast becoming our next quilting fanatic, having made her first quilt in the summer of 2006 and completing dozens more since then.



2013 Jessica & MariaJessica (left) & María: Both started attending the class in the spring of 2013.  They are both draw from the expertise of the veteran quilters in the community. They both have children in middle school.  They diligently attend English classes.  Jessica loves bright colors and modern quilts while María is more attracted to traditional patterns.


2013 JaneJane: Jane is from Korea and has started making quilts when she joined the Harbor Quilt Project in 2008. She has a lot of time to dedicate to her quilts and has developed a style that is unique thanks to her sense of color and aesthetic.