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Quilts Of Valor: View From A Rookie's Bench

Coach Nancy Thiele, left, with rookie Deb Anderson and their beautiful quilt.

How exciting to be part of the Quilts Of Valor program, and one of the first Washington Island Under Our Wings rookies! The Quilts of Valor Foundation was begun in 2003 by Catherine Roberts from her sewing room in Seaford, Delaware, inspired by her son Nathanael's deployment to Iraq.

She wanted to see that returning troops who had been wounded or touched by war were thanked and honored with a tangible item, a quilt sewn and given to them, to welcome them home with love and gratitude.

Since that time over 81,000 quilts have been awarded to recipients of all ages, from those fresh out of combat to veterans of previous wars.

Nationally noted quilter, writer, instructor Marianne Fons helped to create an offshoot of the Quilts of Valor program, named Under Our Wings, in which quilters and non-quilters are paired to create a quilt together.

This format allows people of varying skills and experience to express their patriotism, as quilters share their knowledge and love of quilt making with people who've had little or no experience, hopefully drawing new quilters to the hobby. 

Rookie Diana Young, left, with coach Helene Meyer showing their creation.

After talking about it with various enthusiastic local friends and presenting a program at a Washington Island Women's Club meeting, Marianne and fellow quilter, co-teacher and friend Ellen Graf, agreed that the time was right to organize Washington Island's first Under Our Wings event to take place the weekend of March 8 and 9.

Ellen coordinated it, contacting interested quilters and would-be quilters, as well as finding local sponsors to help pay for the quilt fabric (ordered and provided at discount from Yoder's Department Store in Shipshewana, IN) and supplies.

Community support was overwhelming, as individuals and organizations quickly came forward with assistance, including the American Legion Post 402, American Legion Auxiliary, Sievers (who also offered the studio space and backing fabric at cost), Detroit Harbor Ladies' Aid, Women of Trinity Lutheran Church, Helene Meyer, Washington Island School Student Council, Bread and Water, Washington Island Lions' Club, and three anonymous donors.

Fellow rookies Deb Anderson, Pat Clarke, Valerie Fons, Carolyn Foss, Peg Nikolai, Mary Jo Purinton, Connie Westbrook, Dianna Young and I came, ready to sew on Saturday morning, under the guidance of our coaches, Nancy Thiele, Kathleen Morris, Marianne Fons, Linda Henkel, Anne Delwiche, Ellen Graf, Ann Young, Helene Meyer, and Ti Heal. Jennifer Munao also joined us, working as a solo act.

The day before, they had cut the many strips of red, white and blue print fabrics and muslin base squares to be used, with many of the rookies lending a hand by ironing the uncut yardage. Each coach brought and set up her own sewing machine. While the rookies had a variety of sewing skills, this rookie had none--so I was truly starting from scratch. Ti and I selected fabric strips, laid and pinned them, sewed, ironed, etc.

We spent a busy and fun day, as the teams worked together, seeing our colorful blocks added to the design boards, in readiness to be sewn into quilts. It took a couple more dates with our coaches, but by the end of the week 10 beautiful, patriotic quilt tops, including borders, had been completed. To see color photos, visit

We were all pleased with what we had accomplished together, and impressed at how different each one looked, even though we had used the same fabrics.

Teams of coaches and rookies designing and sewing in the Sophie Studio at Sievers

Now our quilt tops with backing fabric are on their way across the country, to long-arm machine quilters, who volunteer their time and materials to the Quilts of Valor Foundation. In this next phase, they will add the batting, sandwiched between the top and backing, and stitch it all together.

That being done, the quilts will come back to their original teams, when we will hand sew the binding around the edges and add a label, to complete them. Finally, each team will decide where its quilt will go. It may be given to someone we know or go into the greater Quilts of Valor pool -- in either case offering comfort and honor to its recipient. 

Whether or not all the rookies become quilters, we are already talking about and wanting to participate in the next Quilts of Valor event, so who knows?

From my bench, it was a memorable and enjoyable experience, and one I look forward to repeating! On behalf of the rookies, I offer our thanks to Catherine Roberts for beginning the Quilts of Valor Foundation, to Marianne Fons for helping add the Under Our Wings program and for telling us about it, to Ellen Graf for coordinating our Island group, to our sponsors, and to our coaches for their help, advice and encouragement.

Photos by Carolyn Foss of Sievers School


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