The Heart of Quilts of Valor

We are pleased to bring you a special blog post from Heather Stephenson. Heather was asked to be a rookie for the Quilts of Valor Iowa Public Television special. She would like to share her thoughts and feelings with you in this special letter…

A few months ago, I received a phone call from a dear friend and fellow army wife. To my surprise – it was not just a social call. My friend had the task of finding an army wife volunteer to participate in a documentary about Quilts of Valor. My husband had just returned from his third overseas deployment and our family was busy reconnecting and finding our new “normal”. I was reluctant to add another project, especially one that involved being on TV.

I do have a soft spot in my heart for bringing attention to the issues of our wounded and returning veterans. I was also thrilled to find out that Dan Gable, THE wrestling legend, would also be on the show as a guest quilter. Dan Gable is a legend as a world-class wrestler and coach and is admired by people all over the world (especially by my husband who has spent his life idolizing Dan Gable).  I decided to say yes.

A week later, I showed up at the IPTV studios to tape the Quilts of Valor show. I was out of my element and uncomfortable.  I was nervous about looking stupid and saying something cringe-worthy. There were four celebrity quilters that would guide the invited guests through the quilting process and I was humbled to have the opportunity to be coached by these experts. Being a girl from western Iowa, I spent my childhood with my two grandmothers and their sewing and quilting projects. They were both very clever women who survived the Great Depression by working on the farm and in the home. My dad’s mother made quilts for every one of her grandchildren and she waited to give them until we were adults so we would have them as keepsakes. My daughters have quilts for their baby dolls made by my mom’s mother that they treasure. The quilts we were making this day were of a higher quality and craftsmanship than I had ever seen. First, the fabric was not a bunch of old shirts that couldn’t be mended and they weren’t planning on tying the quilts. As a child, my job on cold winter nights in our poorly insulated farmhouse was to sit under the quilts and tie all the yarn pieces into knots. As I looked around the studio and admired the quilts on the walls, I became very intimidated at the task at hand, a quilt in a day…Really? The quilts on display were masterpieces – with intricate patterns that I have never seen before. I could not imagine how I could take fabric and turn out these artistic pieces.

It was a long day of taping and quilting. There was a lot of entertaining banter and storytelling. The day held mixed emotions for me. My husband had only been home for a few short months from his deployment. Even though the studio was humming with laughter and good times, my thoughts went to those dark days of deployment and to those families whose soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. We were there making quilts for the soldiers who lived through horrible accidents and ordeals, but many of their buddies didn’t make it home. Time will heal many of the external injuries our warriors sustain in combat, but they still carry with them the injuries that we can’t see. So, while I was making this quilt for a wounded solider, my mind kept returning to the soldiers who were deployed with my husband. Unfortunately, my husband’s unit lost a solider during their time overseas.  I decided I would give my quilt to one of the soldiers who survived the incident that took Brent’s life, if he would be willing to receive it.

Two soldiers from my husband’s unit suffered extensive injuries and I was torn because both of them deserved a Quilt of Valor.  The week after taping at the studio, I received an email asking if I could also find a recipient for Dan’s quilt.  It was an answer to a prayer!  Both heroes would be able to receive a quilt. Once I started looking at the history of each soldier, I realized Dustin would be a perfect recipient for Dan’s quilt. He was a lifelong wrestler who overcame all the odds and lived and walked when all the experts said he would do neither again. I would have the privilege of giving my quilt to Nick; he worked with my husband in the same office prior to the deployment, so I had a personal connection to him.

Heather and Nick

As we were making the arrangements for the quilt presentation, I got a surprise phone call. The legendary Dan Gable called to invite me to participate in a guest segment during and Iowa State University wrestling meet, which would be broadcast on IPTV.  Since Dustin was a former high school wrestler and Dan was giving him his quilt, we decided to have Dan do his presentation in one of the locker rooms prior to the ISU wrestling meet. The producers asked me to stand outside the room when Dan presented his quilt, because they didn’t want to confuse the viewers by having me in some of the shots. That was a better idea than anyone knew because as I sat at the door listening, I could not hold back my tears. Dustin was such a miracle and a special young man.  I was humbled to meet him.

For the presentation of my quilt, my husband and I loaded up the car with our youngest daughter (two years old) and drove two hours to Nick’s home. During our car ride, our conversation focused on wounded veterans and reflections each of us had about the deployment, not all of it happy…but all of it healing. Making my quilt and giving it to a solider helped heal some of my own guilt for having a husband who came home without injury. Meeting and spending time with Nick’s family was an honor and a privilege.  After the crew left for taping, we shared a meal with Nick’s family and I was in awe of the strength of his wife during the entire ordeal of her husband getting injured in theatre.

Nick's Quilt of Valor Presentation

Quilts of Valor is a project that I am proud and grateful to be involved with. It is a wonderful way to give your time and talents to show our American heroes you appreciate their sacrifices.

Heather Stephenson

Quilts of Valor will only be shown in Iowa. The program times are below. If it pledges well, it will be distributed nationwide.  To learn more about Quilts of Valor, visit QOVF.org.

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23 Responses to The Heart of Quilts of Valor

  1. Virginia T says:

    tears of gratitude. thanks for shareing your part of the story

  2. Linda L.Johnston says:

    Thanks for time and strengh to service for all of us.

  3. dotty weber says:

    I am a quilter, and would like to start making quilts for Hearts of Valor. Are there any special requirements I need to know?
    I would appreciate any information you can give me.

  4. Sue Steward says:

    Very touching. Ladies from our church make quilts that are given for different things but one of the purposes is making quilts of valor. We recently made quilts for all the WWII vets that are a part of our church. They were so appreciative – as much for the recognition and expressions of appreciation for their service as well as the actual quilt they received.

  5. Laura Kidner says:

    Bravo, I have a small stash of American flag print cotton fabric and haven’t yet done anything with it. Let me know if there is somewhere I may ship/donate it to?!

  6. Candi Gordon says:

    What a wonderful experience for Heather. I would like to thank her husband for his service to our country. I am so hoping that tons of pledges come in for IPTV. I am looking forward to seeing it. I am planning on making two QOV. One will go to my brother-in-law who served in VietNam with the USMC and one will go to my nephew-in-law who retired last spring from the Air Force. I will also make one to donate to the QOV program. That is my pledge. I will be shopping for special fabric for these special quilts for these special heroes.

  7. Carol Post says:

    I sewed a quilt of valor for my sister’s quilting group in Virginia when I visited her last spring. They give out precut kits along with a pattern so it is so easy to sew. Then you return the top and pattern and another member machine quilts it. Such a wonderful feeling, and so organized. They all donate fabric, one precuts, many sew, one quilts, one some bind. When I was sewing mine, I had a son deployed in Afganistan, so mine had many prayers sewed into each stitch.

  8. Lori Kutch says:

    Visit the Quilts of Valor Web site http://www.qovf.org for information on how to participate in this worthy cause.

  9. Clairellen McLaughlin says:

    What a touching post..thank you so very much. I really wish the QOV documentary would be shown elsewhere, along with Iowa. Our guild here in northern Michigan has been sewing QOVs for a few years now and are always inspired by videos etc. I hope the pledge drive goes amazingly well. Please see if you can convince the powers that be to show the documentary in other states. Thanks.

  10. Lori Pearce says:

    As a Canadian who doesn’t have any connections to the Military, I am always touched by the American pride that is always evident and vocalized. Here in Canada we are sometimes a bit reserved but be assured we are so proud of of Military too. What a great project.

  11. Marian V says:

    What a wonderful thing you did! I also do the longarming for Quilts of Valor for the USA and Canada and get such joy in going them. If anyone is looking for more information you can find it on the internet. Thank you so much and I hope you continue to make more quilts for the men and women who serve our countries.

  12. Jaci says:

    Our “Gold Coast Guild” in Morro Bay CA has made QOVs for 2 years. Last Veterans’ Day we presented over 20 quilts to veterans in our community. Some of them were from the Vietnam era and had “never” been thanked for their service. Others were young men and women who had recently served. It is my hope that from the generosity of quilters everywhere we will someday “cover” with gratitude all of those who serve our nation, including those families who stay at home.

  13. Natalie Scott says:

    I completed a Quilt of Valor through my local quilt shop for the QOV program in November 2011 for a Marine stationed in Afghanistan who had previously been stationed in Iraq. I wanted very much to have my first Quilt of Valor go to a soldier who has a local affiliation to our American Legion post in Prescott, AZ where my husband is very active in American Legion Riders and I am a member of the Auxiliary. I was fortunate to be connected to an American Legion member whose son-in-law was in Afghanistan. As it turned out, the quilt never did go to Afghanistan because this special Marine learned he would be returning home to his family at Camp La Jeune before the end of the year. And he did… he arrived home on Christmas Eve 2011. On Christmas Day, his mother-in-law gave him the priority mail box saying it was a “Care package”. I now have the memories preserved in the photos that were sent to me of him reading my letter to him, looking at the presentation label on the back of the quilt, and holding the quilt up for all around their Christmas tree to see.
    The next Quilt of Valor is in progress. This one will go to a local veteran who is on 100% disability. I look forward to the opportunity for my husband and myself to present this quilt to him in July this year.

  14. Carole says:

    I saw the Quilts of Valor program on our local IPTV station here in Iowa and was very touched by it. Being an avid quilter, I am going to make some quilts for some of the servicemen that have made it possible for me to have the opportunity to pursue my hobby. I will be giving the quilts to men who have served in the Viet Nam conflict, because most have never been given the recognition and welcome home that they so rightly deserve. God bless all who are participating in this project and God Bless America.

  15. Karen Neitzke says:

    I just read your article with much interest. My husband is a retired army officer with 30 years of service to our country. Our quilt guild in Saginaw, Michigan, makes smaller “Soldiers Quilts” which are 24″ x 36″. They are sent to recovering soldiers at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. I have made quite a few of those and will look into making some Quilts of Valor. Thanks for being an inspiration to us all.

  16. Susan K. Knox says:

    What a wonderful organization. It is wonderful to hear how quilts help people. Firehouse Quilts in Colorado is doing similar work, but directed mostly to helping children in trauma situations and a women’s shelter and newborns who have nothing to be wrapped in. It is amazing to me to see how an old art has become so popular again. Congratulations to your group for all you do to help veterans.

  17. Marcia Jones says:

    Our little quilting group has been making and giving quilts of valor for several years; we are working on our eleventh one now. Some of them have been distributed through the original Quilts of Valor organization, and some have found homes for Wounded Warriors through our local Reserve Group. What a joy it is to sew the blocks with love and respect for our servicemen and women who have given of their time, bravery, and expertise to keep us all free!

    Marcia in Phoenix, AZ

  18. Nancy says:

    God bless each and every person who has worn the uniform of our country! And equally important, the blessings to their families who equally serve by being there for these brave men and women!

    I do hope that in the future there is a publication relating the stories of those who have received quilts, the inspiration of their service needs to be documented and remembered!

  19. Anita says:

    Kudo’s to the founder, coaches and rookies alike for this wonderful project. I was able to watch the segment this morning and am inspired to ‘do’ for others. It is amazing the lives touched by all of you. We are all so blessed to have our service men and women protecting us and our freedom everyday and the quilts of valor are a wonderful way to give them some comfort.

  20. Nancy says:

    God Bless those that put their lives on hold and defend our country every day. Next time you see a Veteran be sure to stop and say Thank you for your Service. This was a wonderful show and I hope many get a chance to view this.

    I’m proud to be part of the SC Quilts of Valor group. I just finished my third quilt to be sent to Afghanistan. The look in the Veteran’s eyes when they are presented a quilt is something you never forget. I had the honor of presenting Quilts of Valor to Veterans in our enrich center this year. It is a day I’ll always remember. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to join our group.

  21. Bryn Zellers says:

    we’ve just started a quilt group through our church and are interested in the Quilts of
    Valor but not sure how to get started. Also can we give the quilts to veterans in our
    area? Our loco quilt shop and other church groups are also interested we’d all join together. Bryn
    Winamac, In.

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