300 Words about Quilting: Quilts and Military

Quilting and Military

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How I got hooked on quilting–November 15, 2011 

It seemed like a good idea at the time: January 15, 2012

Why I love my quilt guild: March 15, 2012


It Runs in the Family

My oldest son is currently serving as a US Navy pilot.  His journey to this station in life was an unexpected one.  He completed his training as an airline pilot in 2008.  It was the beginning of the recession and the airline industry had gone from hiring 100 pilots a month to almost none.  His second child was born as he finished school. It took him eight months, but he finally secured a position with a major airline. He moved his little family across the country to begin his career.  After a short five weeks, he became a casualty of the recession when he was laid off due to over-hiring.  He was unemployed for over a year. During this time, his 18-month-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.  His wife found solace during these difficult times by making baby quilts and other home-sewn items.

Finally after much prayer and contemplation, they decided he should join the Navy.  My dad was a World War II Navy pilot, and my brother was a Navy pilot in the 1980’s. There was an established family legacy, nevertheless, I hadn’t expected my son to join the military.  I had a lot of anxiety about his decision, but was still so proud of him.

To honor my son and his uncle's and grandfather's willingness to serve their country, I made a quilt for the 2011 “Thread Tails and Vapor Trails” contest that celebrated the 100th anniversary of Naval Aviation.  My quilt, “Father, Brother, Son” was a way for me to pay tribute to them and their service.  Additionally, quilting is a way for me to find comfort and peace while my son is so far from his home and family.

Matt’s Quilt


I come from a long line of sewers but I was the first to catch the quilting bug. I hoped my daughter Julie would one day learn to sew and quilt. But my daughter, busy with school and sports showed no interest. When I bought a new machine, I kept the old one. Someday Julie might want it, just for mending. She graduated from college and started to have free time. But still, she didn’t ask for the sewing machine.

Julie met her future husband Matt at her cousin’s wedding. Matt often complimented me on the “blankets” I sewed. Julie bought fat quarters at a flea market – she liked the colors and patterns. With those fat quarters, and many more I made their wedding quilt. When Julie and Matt were married for 4 years, Matt was deployed to Afghanistan with his Army Reserve Unit. While Matt was gone, Julie asked me to help make a baby quilt for a friend. Soon she was making two more quilts. The quilting bug had bit Julie! I got my old machine out for her to use.

Her first stars and stripes quilt sold at a charity auction, the proceeds went to families of our fallen soldiers. Julie hadn’t said a word about her quilting to Matt, but she was running out of time. He was coming home on leave in a couple weeks. With my help on the binding Matt’s quilt was done in time. Matt was given the quilt when he came home on leave and was surprised that Julie had learned to make “blankets”. Matt’s deployment will be over soon. They look forward to snuggling under the red, white and blue quilt.

Deployment Blues

I knew what I was getting into marrying a military man in the middle of the United States of America's War on Terror; after all I was a soldier at one time. We had been married just a year and a month when I waved good-bye to him at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. I sat there as I watched his plane take off and cried for at least fifteen minutes. When I finally calmed down, I got up and went home to an empty house.

I went back to work the next week but could not get over the sadness I was dealing with. I started going to quilting shops. I had never quilted before but had always loved sewing. When my husband deployed and I started to become very depressed, I picked up my scissors and started learning to quilt. I won’t say that it was easy. I didn’t know anyone in my life that quilted but I watched videos and bought books to show me how. That year I don’t believe I created anything but a few blocks of 9-patches. I will say that the business of learning and sewing, what little that I did, lifted my spirits and helped me through those many sleepless nights.

My husband came home to me safe (and in one piece), and for a while those block pieces were all but forgotten. Last year I met a wonderful lady who has been quilting for 30 plus years and she has been wonderful to teach me. Now I am truly a quilter and I have my husband here to show him my creations. I thank God for the blessings He has given me; a wonderful husband and now a friend that I can learn from and work with.

Find a Quilting Group, Form Friendships

One of the first things you learn in the military as a member or spouse is to make friends quickly. You or the friend will be moving soon, so friendship can’t wait. Quilting groups added another layer of friends to my 22 years of experiences as an Army wife. My husband was seven years in and I was seven months pregnant when I saw it in an old mansion – a blue quilt, my favorite color. Then and there, I decided my sewing machine would someday piece quilts. I was going to be a stay-at-home mom, so there would be time. I was an un-artistic math teacher, so the rectangles, triangles and repetition appealed to my sense of order. As we moved around, I was a volunteer in many organizations. But being in a quilting group was something I did for myself. The military just provided an ever-changing backdrop to quilting.

There was no quilting in Panama. Too hot and there was too much turmoil. In a civilian community in upstate New York during an ROTC assignment, my quilting group stood in for military friends. The university may have been liberal and cool to the military, but the women in my group were friendly, as quilters usually are. There was also a quilting group in Belgium where NATO was. That group included women of other nations who were introduced to quilting. The group assembled a Sunbonnet Sue quilt for the headquarters building. Each block represented one of the NATO nations with Sue in native garb. The poster of it, along with block exchange quilts from those years, still hangs in my home. They’re warm reminders of the women I met through quilting and the good times we shared.

Cherished Representations


My husband is an active duty Navy Corpsman. At the end of 2006 he deployed for the fourth time to Iraq from 29 Palms, California. Each time he deployed I passed the time by quilting a project – small or large, whatever caught my interest at the time with a patriotic theme. Quilting has always served as my meditative escape from stress and worry.

When the news of the latest deployment made it back to my family in Wisconsin my mom, two aunts, a great aunt, and several strangers in my Aunt Bonnie’s quilt guild in Phillips, Wisconsin started sending me quilt blocks to include in a quilt. As the months passed I looked forward to getting the mail, not so much because my husband was writing – by that time email and instant messaging was common and greatly appreciated – but because I was getting so much support through strangers’ caring stitches. The quilt was finished around the same time my husband returned home safely; one of the blocks even made it to Fallujah, up the flag pole and back to the states! Sadly, I also made a small, quickly pieced together baby quilt for one of my husband’s fellow Corpsman who was gravely injured in Iraq and flown home to be rejoined with his new son.

I’m glad I began the tradition of quilting during the first deployment. The finished wall hangings and quilts from this time in our life have become cherished representations of the patience and dedication that goes into a military lifestyle and the projects represent little pieces of each military installation we were stationed at across the country.

Stitched together, piece by piece, salvaged scraps, with many hands and hearts united, my military service quilts serve our military family well.

Lonely Nights, Med Cruise


Every military wife knows the loneliness experienced during her husband’s deployments. For our first extended separation, I was home alone with three children under the age of seven. Our nearest family members were 500 miles away. I had good friends nearby, but they were not military. They didn’t understand the weight of being apart from their mates. They also had families and were busy with their own everyday activities.

I decided to create some “me” time by taking an evening adult education course in hand quilt-making. The once per week classes were challenging. We learned hand piecing, hand applique, and hand quilting. I came to enjoy the peaceful time spent working on the week’s homework while the children were in bed.

Fast-forward six months later to the return of my husband from his “Mediterranean Cruise.”  (For those not acquainted with an aircraft carrier, it is nothing like a luxury liner!)  Home life and its accompanying bustle returned to normal. No more evenings to myself. The unfinished sampler quilt was put aside.

Three years later, in a new city in a new state, I joined a quilters’ guild. I finished the quilt and named it, “Lonely Nights, Med Cruise,” to reflect my feelings at the time and the reason for them. I entered my work in the First Quilt category. At the preshow reception for entrants, I was pleasantly surprised to see my quilt hanging with a Blue Ribbon attached!  Upon closer examination, I noticed that the label read, “Lovely Nights, Med Cruise.”  My first reaction was to have it corrected. However, I quickly realized that, in fact, those had been lovely nights. I had found peace in piecing and discovered a new and lifelong avocation!

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