AccuQuilt’s Quilt Gallery will be sporting patriotic colors through June and into July. But the hanging quilts aren’t made by the hands of seasoned quilters. Instead, they come from Nebraskan 4-H members as young as 8 years old.
The concept took its earliest forms when Quilts of Valor Chapter Member and AccuQuilt Educator Judy Fletcher connected with Sarpy-Douglas 4-H representatives at the 2017 County Fair. Fletcher was entering a quilt into the Fair and struck up a conversation with 4-H. It was this conversation that got the ball rolling.
Quilts of Valor’s Under Our Wings program, which is dedicated to getting young people involved in quilting and showing them the value of community service, served as a logical bridge for 4-H members to give quilting a shot.
Months after Fletcher’s initial conversation with 4-H, a collaborative event was in motion, calling on 4-H members to attend a 5-meeting quilting workshop, regardless of their sewing or quilting experience. Members from ages 8 to 18 signed up for the event, with AccuQuilt and other sponsors providing fabric, sewing machines, batting and longarm machine access for the participants.
Before the workshop began on Saturday, Feb. 3, the demand exceeded the expected capacity, and 4-H decided to accommodate additional young quilters who were enthusiastic about the event by expanding the class size to 13.
Volunteers showed strong support for the project as well, with members from the Omaha Quilts of Valor chapter and Omaha Modern Quilt Guild assisting during all meetings. This was in addition to some parents who stayed with their daughters during the workshop. At no point was a workshop participant left to cut or sew by herself, which Fletcher said was important given the creative freedom provided by the event.
“This event was unlike any we’ve put on before,” she said. “In other cases, we have all the attendees follow the same pattern, but in this case, we let them choose their patterns. And you have to remember they’re all at different skill levels.”
Day 1 was the most structured day of the workshop, with attendees learning about Quilts of Valor’s mission, sewing basics and AccuQuilt products. This day gave new quilters a crash course and more experienced quilters the chance to refine their skills.
The next time they met on Day 2, the group was allowed a little more freedom. Lessons in cutting safety were given and everyone’s patterns were finalized out of an AccuQuilt pattern book for the GO! 12" Qube.
With participants ranging from those who had never touched a sewing machine to those that work part-time in local quilt shops, the pace of quilting was in the attendees’ hands from there. Not every 4-H member was able to finish their quilt during the remaining three days of the workshop, which met for its final time in April.
That doesn’t mean they won’t get to finish their quilt though. Volunteers have opened their homes and granted access to sewing and longarm machines for those who still need to finish their Quilts of Valor.
“We’d rather them take the time to do it correctly than push them to finish,” Fletcher said. She added that if they’re working beyond a pace they’re uncomfortable with, they won’t enjoy the experience of quilting.
Fulfilling the Quilts of Valor Mission
So what happens to the quilts after they’re completed?
To start, they’re sent to AccuQuilt Headquarters, where we will proudly display the patriotic quilts in our Quilt Gallery until July.
As a tour guide at AccuQuilt Headquarters, one of Fletcher’s favorite comments to make about the current Quilts of Valor exhibit is something along the lines of, “Just imagine if an 8-year-old tried to cut these shapes with a rotary cutter. Do you think they’d look anything like this?”
From AccuQuilt, the 4-H members’ quilts will be sent to the County Fair, where they will be judged and potentially (depending on their placement) entered into the State Fair.
Finally, each quilt will find its home with a veteran deserving of a Quilt of Valor. When presented to their veteran, these quilts will join more than 200 Quilts of Valor that have been gifted in Nebraska in 2018.
To learn more about Quilts of Valor or to request a quilt, visit their website at www.qovf.org.