Every Friday at noon, a small but dedicated group meets at Miki Landis’ Vancouver sewing shop, Enchanted Rose Emporium, armed with needles and thread. For five hours, they cut fabric, run the longarm sewing machine and complete thousands of stitches. They share bits of their lives as they share scissors and basting pins. And they talk about the soldiers who have served our country or are still serving.
These serious stitchers are members of the Fort Vancouver Quilts of Valor, the local chapter of a national organization founded in 2003 by Catherine Roberts, whose son served in Iraq.
The organization’s members sew quilts and award them to living veterans or service members who have been “touched by war,” Landis said, echoing the Quilts of Valor Foundation’s mission statement. According to its website, the nationwide group has awarded 345,635 quilts to service members over the past 20 years.
“It’s just a little thing we can do, but to know that women and men of all ages got together and handmade something for you — it does have an impact,” Landis said.
She said the quilts are meant to be used.
“We don’t want them stuck in a closet like ribbons and medals. We hope this will be a daily reminder, when it’s on their bed or their couch, of the gratitude that regular people have for their service,” Landis said.
This mission to show appreciation to service members, one quilt at a time, is deeply personal for Landis, whose son is a Marine Corps veteran.
Landis said he was subdued after his multiple deployments to Afghanistan. He struggled to understand why he lost so many friends to suicide after they made it home safely.
Landis said her son is doing great now, but watching his experience gave her a sense of urgency. A quilt can’t erase the trauma of war, but it can be part of the healing process.
“I’m passionate about getting Vietnam vets their Quilts of Valor before we lose them all because they weren’t appreciated,” Landis said. “The idea is that they will recognize that this is basically a hug from a grateful nation.”
Landis was originally a member of the Northwest Oregon Quilts of Valor chapter, which met at a Montavilla Sewing Center in Portland. In July, she started the Fort Vancouver Quilts of Valor group, along with several other members from Clark County who were glad to have a local place to meet.
It’s the only Quilts of Valor chapter in Southwest Washington, Landis said. She estimates the group has awarded 26 quilts in the past year.
Quilts of Valor are more than gifts. Recipients must be nominated. There’s an official quilt-bestowing ceremony and each quilt is labeled and registered with the Quilts of Valor Foundation. Recipients know they’re going to get a quilt and the ceremony is arranged beforehand. Landis said they don’t surprise people with quilts because it can be such an emotional occasion, for both the givers and the receivers.
This emotional connection is front-and-center for Morgane Starke, 23, and her grandmother, Carmen Gallo, 75. Although they’re both relative newcomers to the group, they’re already working on a quilt of their own design, which will be awarded to William Starke, Morgane Starke’s father and Gallo’s son, who served in the Marines from 1985 to 1989.
“My grandma invited me because I was talking to her about wanting to get more involved in crafting with other people,” Starke said. “We’re both very much beginners. This is the first time we’ve had anything to do with quilting.”
Right now, the Fort Vancouver Quilts of Valor chapter is all women, but Landis enthusiastically encourages men to get involved. Landis said there are plenty of ways to contribute without sewing or even without attending the Friday quilting circle.
“There are male quilters all over the place but there are also men who come in and help measuring or cutting fabric,” Landis said. “Maybe they can’t help in other ways, but they can wash a load of fabric every week. That’s a time-consuming thing and a huge help because we pre-wash everything.”
Landis said the group also welcomes donations of patriotic fabrics, quilt batting or new, high-quality thread. People can help with ironing or make quilt blocks at home and arrange with Landis to drop them off at Enchanted Rose Emporium inside the Providence Academy building at 400 E. Evergreen Blvd. Landis said the group would especially love a volunteer who could take pictures and post on social media. Fort Vancouver Quilts of Valor is a 501(c)(3) organization, so financial contributions are tax-deductible.
Landis said the group plans to award three quilts in June and is eager to start making quilts for future nominees, especially Vietnam veterans who may be in declining health.
To nominate someone anywhere in the country, go to www.qovf.org/nominations-awards. Nominees must currently be serving in any branch of the military or they must have been honorably discharged. To donate fabric, thread or quilt blocks or to volunteer for ironing or washing, call Landis at her shop at 360-228-2241 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re fun. You might learn a few things even if you come and don’t sew,” Landis said. “Or you might end up being a quilter.”