Garnavillo/Guttenberg women sew veteran quilts

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From left, Garnavillo Freedom Stitchers Linda Kuehl and Denise Saunders stand surrounded by a selection of unique hand-pieced and stitched veteran quilts. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker 

The Quilts of Valor Foundation is a national organization founded in 2003 by “Blue Star” mom Catherine Roberts. The idea of comforting veterans with quilts came to her while her son was deployed in Iraq as a gunner sitting atop a Humvee. Her sense of panic 24-hours a day – every day — prompted her into action. 

Since that time, more than 140,000 quilts have been awarded in the United States, Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan. With each quilt, the mission to honor service members and veterans is fulfilled. It represents one human being reaching out and touching another with acceptance – acknowledging service to our nation in very trying circumstances without judgment.

Garnavillo Freedom Stitchers

The Garnavillo Freedom Stitchers were founded approximately five years ago. The group is comprised of Wendy Kuhse, Carol DeSotel, Dorothy Wendel, Denise Saunders and Linda Kuehl. 

"We found out about Quilts of Valor from Wendy Kuhse who was already participating in the organization," said Freedom Stitchers Linda Kuehl and Denise Saunders, "Wendy would piece together the quilts and send them off to a long-armer for quilting."

Stitching efforts

"I have made quilts for 13 of the guys my husband served with in Vietnam," noted Saunders. "I have also completed quilts for 15 of my Wisconsin high school classmates that served, 14 of my daughter's Air Force Academy classmates, and some other friends and family." 

  Linda Kuehl, who grew up in Minnesota, recognized a need. "In Minnesota they weren't making any quilts for their veterans. I spearheaded the project and have made quilts for all my former classmates," she commented. "I have not delivered them yet. I wanted to do it this year during our 55th class reunion, but it was canceled due to COVID-19. Most of my classmates still live in the area and those that do not agreed to be at the reunion. I was pumped up last year, but the pandemic has kind of taken the wind out of my sails. I had a Legion gal lined up to read the veteran's story, because I was too emotional to do it myself." 

Opportunity for originality

Kuehl and Saunders pride themselves on originality. They shared, "Each quilt is different and unique to the veteran. We purchase fabric unit patches, ribbons and awards, or the recipient provides them to personalize each quilt. If the item cannot be found we crosstitch it. We handstitch our quilts."

"One of my daughter's classmates from the Air Force Academy sent me about 45 patches. I had to sew some of them on the back," Saunders said with a laugh. 

The women cut and piece the quilts individually and come together to handstitch the quilts together. "I can only work from a pattern. Each year my color choices get a little darker. I am drawn to the darker shades that are currently popular," said Kuehl. 

"I like to make my own designs. I've even based a design from a barn quilt. Each one gets a little more elaborate," Saunders replied.  

"We are touched each and every time we present a quilt. It is a very rewarding experience," they concluded.  

Guttenberg Quilts of Valor Chapter

Guttenberg's Quilts of Valor women are on a mission to cover servicemen and women across the State of Iowa with comforting and healing hand-pieced quilts. Rosalie Kickbush and Joyce Kopecky have successfully led a group of 20-plus women who graciously offered their talent and time to cut fabric, sew kits, or press seams at their workshops. Their long-arm quilter, Jeanne Eilers, has also been part of their crusade since 2013. 

"We pay membership dues to the Quilts of Valor organization. They request certain specifications so we are limited through their requirements," said Kopecky. 

Quilts of Valor requirements 

Fabric used for a Quilt of Valor should be high quality, 100% cotton fabric appropriate for adults.

• The quilt does not have to be red, white and blue, but patriotic colors are very popular with recipients. 

• Patterns and blocks can be of any design suitable for a patriotic theme. 

• The recommended size of a Quilt of Valor is 60″ x 80″; it must be a minimum of 55″ x 65″ and maximum of 72″ x 90".

• The quilt consists of a top, batting, and backing.  It must be machine or hand quilted. A tied quilt is not acceptable for a Quilt of Valor.

• Double fold, also known as French fold, binding is recommended for durability. Hand stitch or neatly machine stitch binding, mitering all corners.

• A Quilt of Valor must be labeled as such, and include the name of the veteran or service member.  

Additional information and policies and procedures can be found online at www.qvof.gov.

Quilt presentations

Each Memorial and Veterans Day, the chapter's handmade quilts are presented to area veterans during the day's honorary program. The quilts are also presented individually at different times throughout the year. Kickbush and Kopecky have presented 361 quilts throughout the years to community veterans and those residing in The Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. The care facility provides a continuum of care to Iowa’s veterans and their spouses. They are one of the largest state veterans homes in the nation and provide services to over 550 Iowa veterans. "We have traveled to Marshalltown twice, once in 2019 delivering 15 quilts, and again in October of 2020 handing over 20 quilts," Kopecky noted. 

Eligible service men/women

"All persons who have served or are serving in the armed forces are important to the safety of our country," Kopecky stressed. "The purpose of our group is to cover all servicemen and women, including those serving in the National Guard.”

Kickbush explained, “Because of confidentiality we are limited to referrals. If you know of anyone who is serving or has served, please fill out a referral form so we can send him or her an invitation. We can only operate through referrals. Currently referral forms can be picked up at The Guttenberg Press and Guttenberg Public Library.”

For additional information contact Joyce Kopecky at 563-252-2145 or Rosalie Kickbush at 563-252-2427.

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