It’s three days of pedal-to-the-floor sewing madness at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall in Enumclaw.
Quilt tops hang from the walls. Colorful, cotton, calicos drape across the tables. The chit-chat is barely audible over the muffled din of the Pfaffs and Singers.
It’s a quilting bee with a mission.
Three times a year – January, May and October – for three days, about 20 ladies haul their sewing machines to the VFW Hall and piece together Quilts of Valor to give to wounded soldiers.
“We start at 9 a.m. and quit when we’re tired,” said Norma Sorger, who is tasked with organizing the group that Connie Frick graciously accepts credit for starting in 2004.
“We had no idea we’d still be going seven years later,” she said.
The group met at Buckley’s Marion Grange until the VFW offered its facility rent-free in 2005. The VFW also donates fabric and takes care of distribution most of the time.
Early batches of quilts went to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and other points around the country. Now, most stay in Washington state with many covering beds at the Homeless Veterans Project, a 60-bed facility built on 31 acres in Retstil, near Port Orchard.
“In the beginning we didn’t make that many,” Frick said, but the last time those 20 members gathered they produced 96 pieces. Those weren’t all quilts, some were bags or wheelchair and lap quilts, and they aren’t all put together during the group get-together.
They can’t quit, Frick said, it’s addictive.
“It pulls at your heart strings,” she said. “You can’t say you’re not going to do it anymore. But, certainly it’s not one person. It’s something that takes all of us working together.”
Like Frick, whose father, brother and nephew are Marines and whose husband was in the Army, there’s a connection.
“A lot of ladies have someone in the military or know someone,” she said.
For Frick, it started with her nephew’s first tour of duty.
“It was a really scary time for me to have him go to Iraq,” she said.
That’s about when her path crossed with Catherine Roberts, founder and executive director of Quilts of Valor. She was looking for quilters. Not only was Frick one, but she knew a few.
“It’s been hundreds,” Sorger said, of the number of quilts the ladies have put together since. Most are in the red, white and blue color scheme, “because that’s what the soldiers prefer.”
“We’ve probably made 400 quilts since our beginning, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to all Quilts of Valor,” Frick said.
Each quilt has a label stitched into it – a purple heart that reads, “Hand Made With Pride and Love in the USA,” with a thank you for service and information about the quilter or “Handmade by Plateau QOV Quilts at VFW Post 1949.”
Occasionally, a letter or photograph of a soldier and his family and the quilt makes its way back to the group.
It’s not often, Shirley May said, but “when we do, it sure makes us feel good.”
Among the correspondence is a letter and photograph from an Army soldier with the Black Horse Unit. His letter has special meaning for Frick because she sewed the Black Horse Unit uniform patch her husband wore home from Vietnam into it.
“It was a very emotional thing,” Frick said.
Frick also gets emotional when she talks about the spur-of-the-moment presentation of quilts she and others made to veterans who were visiting the traveling Vietnam Memorial when it passed through Bellingham.
The group was also touched when the local VFW post commander came by looking for a quilt to give to the mother of Sgt. Nathan Wyrick, a former Enumclaw resident who died in Afghanistan in 2011.
The piece he randomly selected was one with prayers and quotes sewn inside, made by QOV quilter Mary Wellauer.
“I hope she finds comfort in it for the rest of her life,” Frick said.