While Martha Smith’s son was serving as a Marine, she needed something to distract from the worry.
That’s when she found a local organization that quilts for veterans and current servicemen and servicewomen.
“I thought ‘that’s something I can do,’ ” said Smith, the Quilts of Valor Wichita coordinator. “It’s kind of kept me from worrying from what he was doing and where he was posted.”
The quilters present their red, white and blue heirloom quilts – decorated with varying American flag patterns – to veterans and service members across the state. Even talking about the quilt presentations, group member Terry Swan began to choke up.
“I’m a civilian,” she said, “I don’t know what it’s like to be in the military…They’re telling us how wonderful we are and we’re like, ‘No, this is about you.’ ”
The group gathers once a month to sew, cut, press and enjoy each others’ company in what the quilters call a sewing bee. Most of the members put together the quilt tops, the square blocks that go on the front of the quilt. But the longarm quilters – the ones who use a special machine to do the back of the quilt – are in short numbers, Swan said.
“They do it at no cost to us,” said Swan, the group’s longarm quilting coordinator. “It is sometimes overwhelming…because we cannot financially pay them.”
The public may request a quilt for a veteran or soldier, Smith said, on the national Quilts of Valor Foundation’s website. Recently, the Wichita group delivered quilts to soldiers at Fort Riley.
But the requests are coming in faster than the 30 volunteers can sew, Smith said. Since they started nine years ago, the Kansas Bee has donated about 1,300 quilts – 75 so far this year.
“It’s always growing,” Smith said. “…Right now, I’m telling people it might take four to six months” to fulfill a request.
The organization takes fabric and monetary donations, but Smith said she encourages patrons to check the website for instructions. Even if interested members don’t know how to sew, Smith said they will learn.
Once a quilter learns the trade, Swan said, Quilts of Valor can be rewarding.
“That’s when you get home,” she said, “and you go ‘OK, time to get more quilts made.’ ”