Eastern Michigan University Fashion Marketing Innovation program professor and students cut thousands of fabric squares to help the Preemie Pals group create quilts for babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Ronald McDonald House

EMU student cutting fabric for quilts on the industrial fabric cutter in the CAD lab.

YPSILANTI — Julie Becker, associate professor in the Fashion Marketing Innovation Program (FMI) and interim director of EMU’s School of Technology and Professional Services Management in the College of Engineering & Technology, works to implement hands-on manufacturing operation learning opportunities into her computer-aided design (CAD) classes so students learn mass production methods and how to program and operate an industrial fabric cutter.

Her students’ latest endeavor? Cutting 6.5” x 6.5” fabric squares that a group called Preemie Pals then turns into quilts for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Mott Children’s Hospital. (Preemie Pals is a community outreach initiative of the Quilting Season quilt shop in Saline.) Becker was introduced to the idea by her husband Mike Becker, who is a retired respiratory therapist/clinical care specialist at Mott Children’s Hospital and current member of Kiwanis, who supports the Preemie Pals project.

Becker immediately knew she could use it as a learning opportunity for students, and a chance to do something good for the NICU babies and their families.

With an industrial fabric cutter, Becker and her students are able to perfectly cut approximately 600 squares in around five minutes, meaning they have cut roughly 10,000 multi-fabric squares in total for the quilting effort to date.

The initiative teaches students how to input the correct math/geometry into the CAD system to cut the fabric and how to program a CNC (computer-numeric-control) machine for mass production. Plus, the students are rewarded by the role they play in bringing comfort to NICU babies and their families.

Fabric is donated by members or the community and purchased with grant money. Once the squares are cut from fabric, they are delivered to Preemie Pals volunteer quilters to be made into quilts and then donated to the NICU to lay atop the incubators. The quilts help deaden the noise from the machines and cut out much of the bright lighting. When babies are released from the NICU to go home, the families are then able to take the quilt with them. 

“Being able to give my students hands-on learning opportunities while helping out in the community is a wonderful thing,” said Becker. “It’s a win-win for all those involved.”

The Preemie Pals Project started in 2012 with a few dozen quilts and the volunteer effort has now grown to produce over 1700 quilts in 2020. They are even making different size quilts for babies and older children coming in for surgery in the Pediatric Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit at Mott. The group also makes small “scent squares” to be used in the NICU. A few drops of the mother’s breast milk allows the baby to be calmed by the familiar scent while the baby is in the isolette.

To learn more about the Fashion Marketing and Innovation program, visit the FMI homepage.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

May 19, 2021

Written by:
Morgan Mark

Media Contact:
Morgan Mark