By: Jan Ferris
Published June 2007 in Berrien Country Record and Michigan Travel
A quilt symbolizes comfort and warmth. It can signify home, family, and love. And it can mean a whole lot more to a wounded soldier, returning home from the war in Iraq. The Quilts of Valor Foundation’s goal is to provide a handmade quilt to every soldier wounded in service, to show them gratitude and welcome them home.
Quilts of Valor was started four years ago by Catherine Roberts, a quilter from Delaware whose own son served in Iraq in the Army for a year. She knew that for every soldier killed in the war, ten more were wounded, and she wanted to help. She contacted the Chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to see if he would bless and present a blue and white Ohio Star pattern quilt that she had made to a wounded soldier that he felt needed it. He found just the right person to receive it, an amputee from Minnesota.
Catherine then put the word out to the quilting people she knew to make quilts for wounded soldiers. She officially started the Quilts of Valor Foundation, and through her web site (www.qovf.org) has reached over 19 million quilters.
The Bridgman Quilting Bees is a quilting group that was organized 30 years ago. According to Jolene White, one of the founding members, the group has been meeting every Thursday at the Bridgman Public Library to quilt. Her friend’s son is a Marine and she found the Quilts of Valor website. For the past year now they have been meeting on the last Wednesday of each month just to make a red, white, and blue, or some other patriotic design quilt, for Quilts of Valor.
“It is a team effort,” Jolene says. “There are about eleven women on average that make the 45 x 60 lap quilts. Everybody shares and works together. It usually takes two sessions to finish one quilt as a group, but some of the women have made quilts on their own for Quilts of Valor, as well.” Jolene has been making the quilts for about a year and a half, and members of the quilting group have donated over 35 quilts so far to Quilts of Valor. At the May meeting, they got another seven quilts ready to send off and 3 more tops ready to quilt.
The women used to donate their own fabric and batting, but they got a grant from the Cook Nuclear Plant to buy some materials. (They will still take donations of any materials. Contact Jolene White at 269-426-4081.) The tops are quilted, the edges bound, a thank you label is attached identifying the quilters, and a matching pillowcase is made to put it in. Penny Sempert of the Quilting Bees finds out which of the 70 U.S. Military Medical Centers need quilts, and the Stevensville American Legion pays for shipping them where they are needed. They go to the hospital Chaplain for blessing, and the Chaplain distributes them to a wounded soldier. The quilters sometimes get thank you letters from the soldiers, and the QOVF web site also has letters from soldiers about the quilts.
The Quilts of Valor web site serves as a clearinghouse for information on these “comfort quilts.” People that make quilt tops use the web site to locate “longarmers,” people that own what are called longarm quilting machines. These longarmers assemble the tops, batting, and backing of quilts together like a sandwich, and put them on their machines to stitch them together with a quilting pattern. Quilting machines can save many hours of time compared to the original hand-quilting method.
Jean Graham of A Quilt’N Hand in Galien is a longarmer. She found the Quilts of Valor web site and began quilting for them over a year ago. Then she saw a newspaper article on the Quilting Bees and called to offer them her services. She has quilted 27 beautiful patriotic quilts for them, some of which can be seen on her web site, www.aquiltnhand.com.
Longarm quilting machines are belt-driven and move automatically, using special software with endless quilting patterns to create a flawless, professional looking quilt. All that is left to do is bind the edges the way the quilter desires.
Jean has always enjoyed sewing and quilting. Even while working in an office full-time, she did alterations and made crafts for bazaars and flea markets on the side. In December 2001 she purchased a quilting machine to do her own quilting and practice with different quilting methods and patterns. By mid-2002 she was experienced enough to begin quilting for others and officially started her business. She upgraded to a newer model equipped with a Statler Stitcher in early 2004 and began taking on even more work, building her business so that she could retire from her office job early in 2007 to quilt full-time.
Jean gets 55–60% of her customers by advertising in quilting magazines and through her web site, www.aquiltnhand.com. (She can also be reached by phone at 269-545-3562) People will either send her everything - the quilt top, batting, and backing of their choice - or just their quilt top, and she will put the batting and backing material on it. She has a selection of batting, muslin and other backing materials in stock to choose from. She quilts them in the order received and mails them back. It can’t get any easier than that! Most people prefer to put their own binding on.
Jean has a lot of repeat customers and is always getting new ones. When I visited her, she had about a dozen quilt tops to complete, including one Quilt of Valor that Jolene had dropped off the day before, and she was expecting more in the mail that day. She also assembles quilts for people, and was awaiting a package of 95 neckties from a man in Florida who wants a quilt made out of them. This is the first time she has designed such a quilt, but says she has quilted tops for people that were made from clothing that they wore when they were children, scraps of clothing of a loved one, or material with some other sentimental meaning.
Experience has taught her what quilting designs and thread colors would look best with the quilt’s colors and patterns, and repeat customers have come to trust her judgment. She keeps track of the patterns and thread colors she uses on each one so that she doesn’t duplicate them, unless they request it.
The quilting patterns are all on computer programs. She has a wide selection, some of which are shown on her web site, or you can contact her and she can suggest a pattern for your quilt. She can also move the quilting machine by hand to stitch around patterns or inside squares. She says the majority of people like the all-over pattern, though, because they are less expensive. She charges by the square inch. All-over patterns cost from one to two cents a square inch, with the average being one-and-a-half cents. For designs she has to do by hand, the cost is three-and-a-half to five cents, with the average cost being four-and-a-half cents per square inch. There is a minimum charge of $40 for smaller quilts, like wall hangings.
Jean and her quilting machine can complete three quilts a day if they are small. She has done 500 quilts in the past five years, and she expects to be able to do many more now that she is retired.
Jean has many other projects she would like to explore for her business. She has purchased bolts of fabric to cut into “fat quarters” (a quilter’s term for a quarter of a yard of fabric cut into squares 18 x 22 inches) and “charm squares” (fabrics cut into various sized square quilt blocks) to sell on eBay and at Flea Markets and festivals that she and her husband, Don, attend. Don also helps her with packaging, shipping, and receiving.
“I am happy to be able to do this for the Quilts of Valor Foundation,” Jean says. “I think it is a great idea, and it makes me feel as if I am doing something to help the wounded soldiers when they come home.”
The above QOV quilts were quilted by Jean. Click on them for a larger view.