When Jen Manning took up a family tradition with her mother as an undergrad in college, she never dreamed of the joy she’d bring to hundreds and hundreds of people with her heartfelt creations. She does now, because that joy flows back to her tenfold.
Jen Manning and her mom Thelma make baby quilts.
But these aren’t your grandmother’s baby quilts, which is funny, because that’s where the quilt making began in Jen’s childhood home. With both grandmothers, and her mother being avid sewers, Jen had her own baby quilt along with afghans and quilts and Halloween costumes and Easter dresses.
When the first of her girlfriends was expecting, Jen wanted to do something really special for her, and her mother suggested a baby quilt. With her mom’s assistance, they’re now a team, the first Jellybeans Gems baby quilt was created – and a baby whisperer was born.
But back to the quilts themselves. That first one was patterned after her own baby quilt made by her grandmother. It was heavy on embroidered white blocks of ABC’s, nursery rhymes and animals, all pieced together to make the finished product. Beautiful quilts for sure, but as more and more quilts were needed, the time intensive embroidery gave way to varying fabrics and patterns.
Jen learned early on that she loved shopping for fabric and coordinating prints, patterns and solids to match the colors of the nurseries her quilts would soon inhabit. It is her creative outlet, and she doesn’t repeat a quilt pattern, so no two are alike. It seems before you can become a baby whisperer, you must first be an artiste!
And she has truly turned it into an art form. Tim Berney commissioned Jen to create a man sized quilt sewn out of his collection of VI's custom t-shirts for his business partner, Steve Sturges.
Yet it was her mother-in-law Carole, who commissioned the most labor intensive and love-filled quilt project of all when her husband, and Jen’s father-in-law passed away. Jen and her mother have spent the last three years making 18 quilts for Carole’s kids and grandkids out of her late husband's brightly colored western shirts he proudly wore as a square dance caller.
Jen and her mom have done over 60 baby quilts at around 18 hours each, and at least 15 of those heartfelt gifts have gone to VI mothers forever linking the VI family together.
There are two simple rules for getting a Jellybeans Gems quilt: you have to use it, it is not a decoration and it’s made for wear and tear and the washing machine (on gentle and cold), and everyone who receives one must send Jen a photo of their baby on the quilt.
She has hundreds of photos but her favorite are ones of older kids, 3-10-years old who still use their quilts, for family movie nights or when they don’t feel well. The quilts are objects made with love, given with love, received with love and used with love.
The love goes out, and the love comes back for VI’s baby whisperer.
(Learn more about VI's team by reading another employee spotlight: Motion Group Editor Beau Leland)