After a fire damaged 26 school buses at Puyallup School District’s bus barn last August, borrowed buses are about to return to the districts that loaned them.
But they aren’t being returned empty.
Puyallup High School math teacher Leigh Ann Mahaffie made nine quilts — one for each district — as a thank you for lending the buses.
“These districts were great and I hope that (the quilts) make someone smile,” Mahaffie said. “(The fire) could have been awful for us but it wasn’t because of their kindness.”
Each quilt is about 2 1/2-by-1 foot in size with a yellow school bus stitched into the front. On the back, a hand-written message:
To (School District Name):
From All of Us to All of You
THANK YOU for your generosity!
Your kindness in loaning us school buses
when we were in need was a gift beyond measure.
The Puyallup School District”
A total of 14 buses were loaned out to the Puyallup School District from Hood Canal, Kent, Northshore, North Thurston, Oak Harbor, Peninsula, Sedro Wooley, Snoqualmie Valley and the Puget Sound Educational Service District.
Mahaffie was inspired to make the quilts by the districts’ generosity. With a long background in sewing and quilting, she suggested her idea to some academic officers.
“I said, ‘Can I make a quilt for this? It won’t cost you anything, just as a gift,’” Mahaffie said.
Transportation director Cathy McDaniel was one of the staff members on the other side of that email. When she heard the idea, she thought it was a great idea and a “manifestation of the heartfelt things the Puyallup School District felt.”
“We said absolutely — go for it,” McDaniel said. “Bring it to life.”
With an enthusiastic response, Mahaffie got to work. At her South Hill home, where she lives with her husband, Tim, Mahaffie gathered her materials.
“I looked at what I had in fabric,” Mahaffie said. “I tried to use a variety of scraps.”
An avid quilter for years, Mahaffie’s creations are all over her household, from quilts to pillows to wall art. While she’s sold her creations before, Mahaffie says she often gives them as gifts.
“I’ve been sewing all my life. Everyone in the family sewed,” she said. “The first quilt I made was a baby quilt. Once I started quilting — I won’t go back.”
I’ve been sewing all my life. Everyone in the family sewed. The first quilt I made was a baby quilt...Once I started quilting—I won’t go back.
Leigh Ann Mahaffie
Mahaffie learned to quilt from her grandmother and mother. The first experience she had was watching her grandmother make a pillow, and from there, she continued to learn.
Now, Mahaffie is a member of the Tacoma Modern Quilt Guild, and has submitted her pieces to the Washington State Fair for the past two years. This year, her pieces won third-place and honorable-mention ribbons.
Her passion for quilting stems from experimenting with patterns and fabrics.
“Every time I touch a fabric or think about a pattern, it’s a good day,” Mahaffie said. “There’s always a new way to play with fabric.”
Mahaffie started teaching math classes at Puyallup High School eight years ago, but her teaching experience spans 26 years. She worked at Rogers High for 15 years, and three years as a district math coach.
Her interests in math and quilting may not seem similar — but Mahaffie can draw some comparisons.
“There are a lot of calculations going in,” she said. “You can’t be afraid of numbers if you’re a quilter.”
Mahaffie shares her quilting creations with her students by bringing in pieces that she’s finished. One piece hangs above her whiteboard in her classroom.
“The two things I love most to do is teach and quilt, and I get to do both,” Mahaffie said.
The buses and the quilts will be sent back to the districts over time, said McDaniel. Puyallup School District is expecting 21 new buses at a cost of around $2.4 million.
Some of the buses have started to trickle in. As we get the new buses in and operational, those loner buses will be returned to each respective school district.
“Some of the buses have started to trickle in,” McDaniel said. “As we get the new buses in and operational, those loner buses will be returned to each respective school district.”
“I’m glad that I can do something to let them know we appreciate them,” Mahaffie said.