University City

Cinch bag project raises money for autism

It started with a rudimentary drawing: a pencil rendering of a traveling jewelry sack, to be fashioned from scraps of fabric not even a half a yard long.

It's turned into much more, with the making of hundreds of the sacks in a multitude of colors, each one keeping gold and silver treasures safely within, but giving just as richly in return, too.

In the last nine months, Elizabeth Phillippi has set into motion the It's a Cinch project, a fundraiser that so far has earned $5,400 to benefit the Autism Society of North Carolina.

Phillippi, who serves on its board, lives off Getalong Road in University City with her husband, Jeff, and son Daniel, 20, who is autistic. Daniel's twin brother, Curtis, who is not autistic, attends college at UNC Chapel Hill.

The idea came in May, when Phillippi, an avid quilter, and a few of her sewing friends gathered in her finished basement to crack the pattern of a traveling jewelry sack that one of them had seen online.

After two hours, they had it figured out. A dinner plate for a template, a couple of remnants of fabric and a few notions was all it took to put one together.

It was so simple, Phillippi wondered whether other stitchers would be willing to make a few for a good cause.

"People who sew always have extra fabric," said Phillippi. "I thought, if people were willing to take the fabric from their stash and use their talents, then all the money can go to an organization that I care so much about."

The response was overwhelming. Shortly after Phillippi began the project, a quilters' guild in Cabarrus County invited her to teach a workshop on the jewelry sacks. For weeks afterward, members turned in dozens for her to sell, which she did, at $10 a bag.

A local fabric store owner caught wind of the project, too, and offered two fat quarters - squares of fabric popular with quilters - to anyone who made a sack to sell in her shop. "She just mailed me a check for the Autism Society for bags that were made and sold that I never saw," said Phillippi, referring to the $120 she passed along to the ASNC.

It's not just the seasoned stitchers who have picked up a needle and thread, either.

Phillippi was honored when a friend announced she and her colleagues had spent a week cutting and stitching for the fundraiser during their lunch hour. "They were amazing. They didn't know how to sew, most of those people," said Phillippi. "At the end of the week, they made 27 bags."

Many who don't sew but have a connection to the cause have helped in other ways. A woman whose daughter has autism donated yards of fabric. Another, whose niece is on the autism spectrum, offered to sell the sacks in her hair salon.

"It's hard to not know somebody (with autism)," said Phillippi.

Phillippi attaches an It's a Cinch tag to each sack sold, describing the mission of the ASNC for those who are unaware of how helpful the association can be to those affected by autism.

While other organizations focus on autism research, ASNC turns its attention to those already living with the condition. They serve as advocates, help families of the newly diagnosed and provide training for those who interact with autistic individuals, such as teachers or medical professionals.

Many have picked up a needle and thread for the organization in the past few months, and for that, Phillippi is thankful. "My goal when I dreamed this whole thing up was 1,000 made and sold to get to $10,000," she said, now more than halfway to that goal. "I have seen incredible generosity from people."