Quilts of Valor

Awarding comforting quilts to Service Members and Veterans

Written by
Victoria Caldwell
Published on
December 9, 2021 1:18:00 PM PST December 9, 2021 1:18:00 PM PSTth, December 9, 2021 1:18:00 PM PST

Each year on Veteran's Day, Americans take time to recognize those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. While many veterans are awarded their quilt on Veteran's day, Quilts of Valor ceremonies happen all throughout the year in cities and towns across the United States and even at military bases overseas. Quilts of Valor hopes to provide comfort to the women and men “touched by war” in service to this country through the award of a hand-made quilt.

Quilts of Valor (QOV) is still a relatively young organization, beginning in 2003 when founder Catherine Roberts’ son was deployed in Iraq. She imagined being able to wrap him in a quilt and bring him hope. As the members of the modern military volunteer for service, Quilts of Valor allows quilters to volunteer their time and materials. All of the quilts are “awarded,” not passed out or given away, in a touching ceremony. These are all well-made quilts, handmade with quality materials, and fully quilted either by hand or by machine. The quilt says unequivocally, “Thank you for your service and sacrifice in serving our nation.”

It starts with nominating a service member or veteran. These individuals can nominate themselves, but it's often a friend, family member, or co-worker who completes the application. A few years ago, after learning about Quilts of Valor from an exhibit and awards ceremony at the National Quilt Museum, my mother and I nominated a member of our church to receive a quilt. We got Phil's permission first of course, and asked him the specific dates of his service. This is when the stories started pouring out, I learned so much more about this man I’d known for years when I started asking about his service. Phil served in the Marines during the Korean War.

The organization lets you know that it might be a while before a quilt is available to be awarded. I remember that we were invited to the awards ceremony sooner than I imagined. Nine quilts were awarded that day, and the room was full of friends and family there to show their support. Quilts are only awarded to living veterans and service members to provide comfort.

[Quilts of Valor awarded to nine veterans in Paducah, KY, March 2019. Photo by Mark Caldwell.]

Robert Worden (the local QOV coordinator here in Paducah, a veteran and QOV receipient himself) conducted the ceremony. Each person's name and military service is shared aloud. Donna Worden and someone from the church hosting the ceremony draped each quilt around the receiving veteran. The quilt is like a hug, wrapping the recipient in warmth and a reminder that someone cared enough to make this quilt for them. All QOV ceremonies, regardless of where they are held, include a three-part message that honors each individual's service, recognizes their dedication and thanks them for their sacrifice, and offers the hope that the quilt is meant to provide comfort and "remind you that although your family and friends cannot be with you at all times, you are forever in our thoughts and our hearts."

Each quilt came with a pillowcase to store the quilt when not in use, but I got the impression these quilts were going to be used and washed frequently and rarely put away. Most of the quilts were made with red, white, and blue fabrics and in patriotic themes. Phil received a quilt with lots of yellow (in the picture to the right), and he absolutely loved how cheerful it is. Practically every time I see him, he thanks me again for the quilt and tells me how much it means to him.

According to the QOV website, the organization has awarded over 286,000 quilts that are now providing comfort to these service men and women. That’s a significant impact for an organization less than 20 years old! This also represents hundreds of thousands of hours and yards of fabric donated by people across the quilting community.

[Quilts of Valor presentation at the National Quilt Museum, January 2020. Photo by National Quilt Museum.]

Becky Glasby, Director of Education at the National Quilt Museum and a board member of Quilts of Valor says, “It’s an honor to host exhibits and share the work of the Quilts of Valor Foundation here at the National Quilt Museum. Knowing that the quilts on view are awarded to service members brings home not only the time, love, and care put into each quilt, but also the responsibilities, and sacrifices made by those who’ve served in the US Armed Forces.”

Hancock’s of Paducah is proud to be one of the sponsors of the “Take 5” virtual fundraising event for Quilts of Valor that took place between November 1-11 of this year. Participants could run a 5K, go on five walks, make five quilt blocks... whatever would be fun for that individual based on their ability.

[Close-up of receipient holding his quilt, January 2020. Photo by Emily Hendrix.]

You can participate in the Quilts of Valor mission. There are local organizations all over the country and you can become a member of QOV on their website. Quilters can make a block, sew a presentation pillowcase, make a quilt top, or volunteer their long-arm services to help complete quilts. If you’re one of those amazing people who love to bind quilts, they need you too! I’ve personally seen QOV’s booth at the AQS Paducah show and QuiltCon... I’m sure they’re at other shows as well to help provide information and resources to quilters supporting this mission. There are more than 10,000 volunteer members in all 50 states. If you’re already supporting QOV, thank you!

I reached out to a quilting friend who has made dozens of quilts for Quilts of Valor. Nancy Beecher served in the Army as a nurse and continues to care for her fellow service members now through her quilting skills. She enthusiastically discussed her volunteer work with me, and how much it meant to her personally to award quilts to both people she knows and strangers united by service to this country.

Nancy says, "When I joined the Quilts of Valor Foundation, I thought this would be a good way to put my piecing and quilting skills to good use. I bought some patriotic-themed fabric and started on my journey to give back to those who have defended our nation and freedom. I had no idea of the impact the QOV would have on the receiving veterans and myself. When I awarded my first Quilt of Valor to a veteran, it was an emotional event for both of us. When I began working on that quilt, I never imagined the immediate impact and response awarding that quilt would have for either of us. The recipient of that quilt, a Vietnam veteran, told me after he was awarded that quilt that no one had ever thanked him for his service before. At that moment, I realized this was not just some pieces of fabric stitched together but an enduring symbol of respect, gratitude, and love for the men and women who sacrificed so much for the people of our nation."

[Nancy Beecher (far left) at a Quilts of Valor awards presentation in Clarksville, TN, Veteran's Day 2019. Photo by Lee Erwin, Clarksville Now. Read news article about this ceremony.]

Making a quilt to award is a truly meaningful gift, but there are a few requirements to keep in mind. The recommended quilt size is 60 by 80 inches. It can’t be smaller than 55 by 65 inches, or larger than 72 by 90 inches, as it is intended to be a throw quilt for an individual. Several patterns are available on the QOV website as suggestions, but the quilt can use any pattern in the right size. It doesn’t have to be a traditional design with stars and stripes either, we have many patterns on our website you can browse. If you find a pattern you like that’s not the right size, you may be able to add or remove a row, or add or modify borders to fit the size requirements. Fabric should be appropriate for an adult, 100% cotton, and quilt-shop quality. While fabrics in patriotic colors and themes are popular, they are not a requirement. Finished quilts need to have a QOV label. The presentation pillowcase is optional (but I think the recipients really enjoy having them).

If you have any more questions about the Quilts of Valor Foundation, head over to their website. You can read through their newsletters, make a donation, or contact them directly.