When a Vietnam vet comes into your sewing-machine store looking for a sewing machine, what are you going to sell him?
A Janome Thread Banger, that’s what.
“How masculine could Thread Banger be?” asks Dennis Joynt, the veteran in question. He got his Janome machine in 2008 so he wouldn’t have to ask his wife, Lynn, to sew patches on his motorcycle vests anymore. But he’s moved way beyond that. Now most of his 11 grandchildren have a quilt made by Grandpa. And Joynt is one of two Wichita-area Navy veterans who make quilts to give other combat veterans and service members as part of a national campaign called Quilts of Valor.
The effort to spread a blanket of love and thanks around those who have served in war will be on display next weekend during the Common Threads Quilt Show at Century II. Four to six quilts will be presented to veterans of different wars during an award ceremony at 11 a.m. June 23.
“If you haven’t witnessed an award ceremony, they are incredibly hard to describe,” said Martha Smith, president of the Kansas Bee, or chapter, of Quilts of Valor. After a Marine attended one such ceremony, he told Smith: “I know what you guys do. I understood it but never got it. Now I get it.”
Joynt, of Wichita, and fellow veteran and quilter Brad Modlin of Derby will be part of the presentation.
“Just to see how it touches them that someone actually cares and thinks about them” is the reason he makes the quilts, said Modlin, who served in Lebanon in 1981. He started quilting nine or 10 years ago on a dare by his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Judy.
“She had been quilting with QOV and made the statement one day: ‘It would be nice if you could do that.’ I said, ‘I could do that.’ She said, ‘No you can’t.’
“I had a desire. I think men that quilt typically like the engineering aspect of the quilts, the angles, the shapes and everything.”
Modlin and Joynt are among a handful of men in the 700-member Prairie Quilt Guild. The guild is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and will be putting on its 15th show, held every other year, from Thursday through June 23 at Century II. More than 500 quilts will be on display at the show, and the guild expects 5,000 visitors. The show will feature workshops, more than 60 vendors from all over the country, the chance to win an award-winning quilt made by a committee of guild members, and an auction of miniature quilts at noon June 23, right after the Quilts of Valor ceremony.
Joynt jumped into quilting when his oldest granddaughter wanted one. “You get me the picture, the pattern, the fabric, I can do anything like that,” he said. “To me it’s just straight stitches.”
He heard about Quilts of Valor in 2009 and joined the local bee. The group meets the second Saturday of the month at Tyler Road Baptist Church, 571 S. Tyler Rd., from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or so. The public is welcome, and members teach people to make the quilts if they don’t already know.
“Little by little, I got proficient at making them,” Joynt said. A year later, he was elected veterans affairs coordinator of the American Legion post in Mulvane. As part of his duties, he checked out the Kansas Veterans Home in Winfield.
“I’m a vet, so I’m having a blast meeting all these vets,” he said of his visit. While there, he noticed one thing in particular: “None of the rooms have quilts.”
Joynt found out there were 103 people living in the home, so he said, “I’ll make you 103 quilts.” When he got home and told his wife, she “was making dinner. She grabbed her purse and shoes and said, ‘Let’s go.’ ” They headed to Jo-Ann Fabrics at Towne West and spent $857 on “as much fabric as we could carry.” Now the Joynts pair up not only to make quilts for Quilts of Valor but for the veterans at the home in Winfield as well. “We delivered No. 21 last week,” Dennis Joynt said.
He also makes quilts to take along on the annual Run for the Wall motorcycle ride to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., delivering them to the Tuscaloosa, Ala., VA and the Virginia Veterans Care Center in Salem, Va., along the way.
Oftentimes quilters who make Quilts of Valor aren’t on hand to personally see their work delivered. But sometimes they are.
“Everybody goes to tears instantly,” Joynt said. “That’s where I get the joy. I get the love.
“My wife will spend eight hours a day downstairs doing her sewing, and I do mine. We complement each other, which has really hooked us together in retirement.”
The quilters try to make the effort as local as possible. Modlin decided to design and make a quilt for Jonathon Blank, a Marine sergeant from rural Augusta who was severely injured in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan, losing his legs when an improvised explosive device detonated. Modlin and his wife presented the quilt to Blank last year.
“It makes me feel better knowing that people care, that they’re thinking about me,” Blank said this week. “The worst feeling a person can have is when you give your all and people just forget the sacrifice.”
Last fall, a request came in to the local Quilts of Valor bee from a chaplain who wanted members of the 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Riley to receive quilts on their return home from Afghanistan. The unit had seen some particularly rough action there, Smith said. Six hundred quilts were needed. So the Kansas bee put out the word, and quilts came in from all over the country, including from Wichita. In April, 611 quilts were delivered to the returning squadron. But along with that, the bee received a request for 350 quilts for the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery out of Fort Riley. “It’s an ongoing thing,” Smith said of the desire to spread the quilts.
“We need to expand our core. We need quilters and teachers.”
Quilts of Valor will have a booth at the quilt show where people can make a donation and, if they like, write a message to a service member on a quilt block that will become part of a Quilt of Valor quilt.
Dennis Joynt has just taken a step like the one he made when he got a sewing machine: He and Lynn have bought a longarm quilting machine so that they can quilt the tops that they’ve sewn for their quilts, rather than sending that work off to be done by someone else.
“I’m a 100 percent disabled vet,” Dennis Joynt said. “But that doesn’t mean that I can’t quilt. We do what we can ... It’s the love of quilting, of giving to the vets.”