Quilts Used in Isolettes to Keep Babies in the Dark

Austin; Texas; United States


Kay Needles, NICU nurse and sewing volunteer coordinator at St. David's Hospital, Austin, Texas, shows off one of the scrub quilts on an isolette holding a premature baby.
Photo by B. J. Adams Studio.

At St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, TX, scrub quilts are actually used for newborns in the NICU to cover their isolette; an incubator with controlled temperature, humidity, oxygen levels and armholes through which the infant can be touched and cared for. Isolettes are typically covered to keep the baby in a dark environment, approximating conditions of the womb. The handmade covers are intended to reduce the sterile look of the isolette and thereby the trauma experienced by parents who are facing a difficult situation. Kay Needles, a nurse in the NICU, is pictured with a scrub quilt covering a sister and brother who had been in the NICU for over two months. Needles coordinates volunteers who make the covers including individual donors and members of such charitable organizations as Threads of Love and Newborns in Need, all dedicated to providing handmade articles for premature and sick infants. The scrub quilts are especially meaningful because they have been worn by nurses who, as Needles explains, have gotten very attached to their scrubs. “Some of us remember which pair of scrubs we were wearing when we were caring for a certain baby or even our own babies. Most of us hang on to them—scrubs are not something that we give away.” Like many hospitals, St. David’s made the decision to standardize uniforms and all nurses were assigned navy blue scrubs. Needles had a brilliant idea; use all of the scrubs that staff could no longer wear to make new, much needed isolette covers. The project provides the added bonus of the nurses being able to “see” and enjoy their treasured scrubs while also knowing they have been donated to a good cause. Many of the NICU nurses have helped make the covers or held fundraisers to buy quiltmaking supplies for Needles who does most of the sewing. She has made over 100 covers and says she has promised the other nurses that she’ll keep making them until all their scrubs are used. She believes in the healing benefits of these quilts for the families of premature babies. “They get to know which isolette holds their baby by which quilt is on it…The cheerful quilts help soften the hospital environment and bring some comfort…My children were all born healthy, and I never had to be on the other side of NICU as a parent. I’ve had so many blessings and I’m happy to be able to use my talent to give something back. All the NICU nurses want to do anything we can do for the parents to make their journey easier.”

Written by Needles, Kay;MacDowell, Marsha;Luz, Clare;Donaldson, Beth (2017)

MacDowell, Marsha; Luz, Clare; Donaldson, Beth. Quilts and Health. University of Indiana Press, 2017. Page 176.

Quilts and Health

  • Quilts and Health

    Documentation Project

    Michigan State University

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