Quilts of Valor — Dedicated To Covering Service Members & Veterans

(Originally published November 8, 2015. Written by Rita Farro.)

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Quilts of Valor “at the ready” to wrap service members in comfort and warmth during the long, chilly medevac flight from the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF) Ramstein, Germany to receive further care at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

Quilts of Valor “at the ready” to wrap service members in comfort and warmth during the long, chilly medevac flight from the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF) Ramstein, Germany to receive further care at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

Catherine Roberts founded Quilts of Valor® Foundation in November 2003.  Born and raised in California, she did a stint in the Peace Corps, then settled in the NE corridor with her husband Chris.  She was a busy mom, raising four kids and working as a nurse.

She says, “It was after 9/11 that things changed radically for me.  In late 2003, I started QOVF as a result of my older son, Nat’s, upcoming deployment to Iraq as a gunner for his Humvee.”

Knowing that she was “10 seconds from panic” while her son was deployed, Catherine had a vision of a post-deployed warrior struggling with his war demons at 2:00 in the morning.  She saw him sitting on the side of his bed wrapped in a quilt.  That quilt not only comforted but warded off his war demons.  Thus QOVF was founded.  The mission was simple:  To cover all those wounded warriors with both physical and psychological wounds with a Quilt of Valor.  Originally, the focus was on warriors from Iraq/Afghanistan and many of the quilts were sent overseas, but the mission has expanded to ALL service members and veterans.

The quilting partnership between piecers and quilters happened mostly thanks to Janet-Lee Santeusanio of MQX (Machine Quilters).  The volunteer partnering of long armers with piecers of quilt tops was where the magic really took hold.  Good pieced tops become beautifully quilted quilts thanks to the machine quilters.

Quilts of Valor now honor and comfort service members and veterans from all services and all wars. On Veterans Day after the wreath laying ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, two veterans from past wars were honored with Quilts of Valor. Charlie S., a Navy WWII veteran, was awarded “Anchors Aweigh,” and John L., a Marine during the Korean War, was awarded “Stars and Stripes.” The Scottish American Military Society (SAMS), Post #2, Post of the Potomac partnered with QOVF to award the quilts in a traditional military award ceremony.

Quilts of Valor now honor and comfort service members and veterans from all services and all wars. On Veterans Day after the wreath laying ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, two veterans from past wars were honored with Quilts of Valor. Charlie S., a Navy WWII veteran, was awarded “Anchors Aweigh,” and John L., a Marine during the Korean War, was awarded “Stars and Stripes.” The Scottish American Military Society (SAMS), Post #2, Post of the Potomac partnered with QOVF to award the quilts in a traditional military award ceremony.

This whole process started with one QOV going to Walter Reed Army Medical Center with the assistance from Chaplain John Kallerson (Lt Col) and his wife Connie, a quilter. In May 2014, QOVF  went back to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a symbolic ceremony at the new USO facility to acknowledge 100,000 Quilts of Valor.  At that ceremony, nine QOVs were awarded to military service members and veterans.

Quilts of Valor (www.QOVF.org) is an amazing grassroots, non-profit organization, totally run by volunteers.  They have approximately 10,000 volunteers nationwide.  Marianne Elliott is the volunteer who writes the newsletter for the organization.  “I retired from the Navy after 21 years.  My involvement with the Quilts of Valor started almost two years ago.  The last time I quilted — people were still using scissors to cut fabric.  So if I can be of service, ANYBODY CAN!  The QOVF website has lots of information about quilt patterns, criteria, local groups, award presentations, etc.

There is no one right way to create a Quilt of Valor. February 1, 2014 was the first National Sew Day — and 1,361 registered participants in six time zones made 586 tops.  Every year, the American Legion in Corning, New York lets the Southern Tier QOV sewing group come in for a 12 hour quilting marathon the Saturday before Veteran’s Day.  Local merchants donate food and prizes — and by the time it’s over — this small group of dedicated quilters will create 70 or 80 quilt tops.  Some groups meet on a monthly basis, and hundreds of quilts are made by dedicated individuals sewing in their own sewing rooms all over America.  The one thing that is a constant is that every stitch in every quilt is a labor of love  . . . ’ “

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http://www.qovf.org

Nancy Mahoney

Nancy Mahoney, hardest working woman in the quilting industry.Nancy Mahoney (nancymahoney.com) has a reputation for being the hardest working woman in the quilting industry.   Nancy has been making quilts for over 25 years and her best guess is that she has designed and created over 600 quilts.  SO FAR.  Her quilts have been featured in over 175 national and international quilt magazines — with more in the works.

A snapshot of Nancy Mahoney’s quilt world achievements:

  • Created over 100 quilt patterns for various fabric manufacturers.  
  • Designed 15 fabric collections for Clothworks and P&B Textiles, including eight 30’s reproduction collections.
  • She is one of the most popular teachers in the quilting world.  In 2016, Nancy will teach at more than 30 quilt events.
  • Authored 14 books, her most recent, Learn to Paper Piece – A Visual Guide to Piecing with Precision.

Nancy Mahoney, Learn to Paper Piece - A Visual Guide to Piecing with PrecisionWhen asked how her incredible quilting career started, Nancy thoughtfully said, “I have always loved sewing.  As a kid of 7 or 8, the sewing machine was in my bedroom and I loved playing with fabric and sewing pieces together. I made garments for many years and spent 10 years doing tailoring and alterations for a department store in Boise, Idaho.

In 1976, I saw a magazine showing vintage quilts, with patterns.  I took a class and learned how to hand piece and hand quilt.  At that time, cotton fabrics were scarce and we didn’t have rotary cutting equipment.  But I was hooked.”

In 1991, Nancy got a job at Clothworks, a Seattle fabric manufacturer — and that was the moment quilting changed from a hobby to a career.
 
Nancy started attending Quilt Market as a Clothworks employee.   Part of her job was to make quilts to display in the booth (using the new fabric collections).   Her first cover girl quilt was published in 1996 on the cover of Quilting Today. Since then, her quilts have been featured in over 200 national and international quilt magazines, and she’s had 15 quilts on the cover of various magazines.

Nancy loves all styles of quilts — from appliqué to paper pieced — from easy to challenging.  She likes to try different techniques, and her quilts often combine different design elements.  For example, she might add a little appliqué to the border of a pieced quilt.  Because so many of her quilts are designed to feature specific fabrics, she creates the design FIRST — then determines the best method or technique to achieve the finished quilt.  

A turning point in Nancy’s quilt journey was when she became an Electric Quilt artist.  The Electric Quilt is a quilt design program.  She has been testing and using their product since it was DOS based. She describes it “like a simplified version of Photoshop combined with Illustrator.  You can work in layers, experiment with fabric selection and colors.  EQ has tools for coloring your blocks, or you can scan in a fabric, import it into EQ, drop it into the quilt, and see how the quilt will look before you make that first cut.”

When Nancy and her husband moved from Seattle to Florida in 2001, she didn’t want another 9-5 job.  She decided the time was right to start her own business.  She had earned a reputation in the industry for being a creative quilt designer who understood deadlines.  She had also developed important contacts and relationships with fabric companies and quilting magazines, so she started to submit fabric designs, quilt patterns and magazine articles.   

Nancy Mahoney enjoys meeting quilters around the world at Quilt shows.

Nancy enjoys meeting quilters around the world.

Her first book, Rich Traditions, was released in 2002, and that’s when she added teaching and lecturing to her workload.  Her classes, like her books, are well-organized, with clear instructions and illustrations — always with fun anecdotes.  Nancy’s goal is always to make sure her readers/students have a good time, learn something new and create a quilt they will enjoy for many years.  Fourteen books and hundreds of classes down the road, Nancy is well known for developing simple techniques that create dramatic results.  Her 2016 teaching calendar is completely booked.  Nancy will do more than 30 events and be away from home for over 100 days.
 
Where does she get the inspiration for a new quilt?  That depends on what the quilt is for. If she’s been asked to design a quilt using a specific fabric collection, then the fabric is the inspiration for the design. On the other hand, when she doesn’t have to use a specific fabric collection, the inspiration comes from playing with different blocks and colors.  She uses EQ7 to design all her quilts so it’s easy to change a block/design until it evolves into something she likes.  She loves to play with colors and fabrics to add the finishing touches.
 
Nancy says, “I love collecting vintage quilts, and I have about 150 vintage quilts and quilt tops, plus lots and lots of blocks and partial quilt tops. My vintage quilts are often an inspiration for my own quilts. I enjoy recreating a block from a 1930s quilt using today’s fabrics and techniques.

We all have a bucket list of quilts we want to make.  My philosophy is, if I own a quilt I can cross it off my bucket list and don’t have to actually make it.  We’ll never know the story behind most quilts. However, I have a Basket quilt in my collection that is dated. All the baskets are different fabrics and each block is signed in permanent ink. All the blocks appear to be the same handwriting, so I think one person wrote the names on the blocks, which was very common at that time. The name on one block is Maggie B. Walker and I think she made the quilt, because it’s inscribed in the upper-right corner ‘Lizzie Walker from Sister Maggie, June 9, 1884’.”

When Nancy became interested in quilts from the 30s, she also started collecting patterns that quilters clipped from newspapers during that time.  They could send a dime to a clearing house for a full-size pattern. Those patterns and newspaper clippings became the inspiration for three of Nancy’s books. The fabrics in vintage quilts have been the starting point for all of her fabric collections.

A glimpse into Nancy Mahoney's sewing home.

A glimpse into Nancy’s sewing home.

So, how did Nancy Mahoney earn the reputation as the hardest working woman in the quilt industry?  Here’s her schedule:  When home she is at her desk by 8:30 AM, doing social media and answering emails. The rest of the day is spent working on new patterns, writing articles for magazines, or editing books for Martingale (she is a technical editor).  At 4:00 PM, she takes a break to fix/eat dinner. After dinner,  she sews on her Bernina until 8:30 PM.  It’s a long day, and she doesn’t have any employees.  Since she and her husband moved to Georgia, she has one entire floor in the house devoted to her business.  That includes one room for fabric, one room for quilts and class prep, and three adjoining rooms for her office/studio.  

Laughing, she says, “I got just what I wanted — NOT A 9-5 job!!  I pretty much work all day, every day, seven days a week.  I can do the technical editing if I’m on a plane or sitting in an airport or motel.”

Nancy Mahoney's constant companion, Prince, making sure every stitch is correct.

Nancy and Prince.

Nancy’s constant companion in her sewing studio is Prince.  He’s a 35-year old Umbrella Cockatoo (also called a Great White Cockatoo).  She and her husband bought Prince at Pike Place Market when he was three years old.  He could live to be 100!  Prince loves to help Nancy sew.   He likes to remove pins … usually before she sews the seam!  Nancy says Prince is the perfect pet.  He is like a cat because he likes a lot of affection…but, like a dog because he wants to follow her around the house.  

Nancy has seen many changes in quilting since she began. “Tools are so much better now than when I started.  Can you even imagine making a quilt without a rotary cutter?  The fabrics have changed, too, both in style and color. In the beginning, the colors were more muted, homespun was popular, there was a lot of brown.  Now the colors are brighter and cleaner.  Batiks are still very popular, and you see a lot of white in today’s quilts.  The techniques for making quilts have changed too. When I started, the standard was hand quilting. Then quilters started machine quilting and long-arm machines came into play. Electric Quilt was a game changer. It’s always exciting to attend Quilt Market and see what’s next on the horizon.”

Adele hears songs in her head, and she must sing them.  J.K. Rowling hears stories in her head, and she must tell them.  Nancy Mahoney’s brain is full of quilt squares and techniques, and there seems to be no limit to how many quilt patterns and books she will create.

If you are in need of a little quilting inspiration — visit Nancy’s website (www.nancymahoney.com) where she has made hundreds of her quilt patterns available as free downloads.  Her energy and enthusiasm for this hobby-turned-job is legendary.  She is living that Confucius bit of wisdom  “do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.”