JOHNSTOWN — Millions of Americans will display the nation’s colors on Monday in honor of Memorial Day.
But for Pat Wilson of Oakland, patches of red, white and blue comprise a patriotic symbol that honors military service personnel year-round.
The Stonycreek Township resident has organized a group of dedicated women intent on creating quilts for the Quilts of Valor Foundation. The national organization’s mission is to literally cover all combat service members and veterans touched by war.
The foundation, through its network of volunteers, has given out tens of thousands of quilts since it was founded in 2003.
“We present quilts to any service member from all military branches who has seen war,” Wilson said. “It covers those who have served dating back to World War II and up to and including the war in Afghanistan.”
After being a caregiver to her parents and sister-in-law for years prior to their deaths, Wilson found herself with time on her hands and looked for something constructive to fill her days.
“I decided that I wanted to show my gratitude to as many veterans as possible for the job they are doing to keep us free,” Wilson said.
Another inspiration was her husband, Jon, a 10-year Army veteran who served in Vietnam in 1964-65.
“My husband and his comrades didn’t get the hero’s welcome they deserved when they returned home,” she said. “I
didn’t want that to ever happen again.”
Wilson started the project herself until she was contacted by another woman who wanted to help. Together they did their first quilt in 2010. The group now boasts eight members who call themselves the Qwazy Qwilters.
The women started quilting at the East Hills Senior Center, where they now meet from 2 to 5 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. They also sew from 10 a.m. to
2 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays at the Quilt Peddler, 620 Lamberd Ave. in Geistown.
The quilters take a short break in the summer months and between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The women work in concert with each other, cutting squares of fabric that have patriotic colors and images such as Lady Liberty.
Each quilt is large enough to cover a full-size bed or be used as a wall hanging.
Wilson admits that her quilting skills were lacking when she made her first quilt.
“The only quilt I made in my life was back in the 1980s, and I used scissors to cut the fabric,” she said.
Fast forward to the 21st century: Wilson and her team now employ sewing machines, a variety of clear plastic templates to get the proper dimension for each square and rotary cutters to trim the fabric.
Once the squares have been cut and sewn together, Wilson ships them off to a quilter where batting is added to give volume.
“The quilts are returned to us and we sew an edging around the border,” Wilson said.
In 2011-12, the group produced 100 quilts that were sent to deserving military personnel.
Quilts have gone to people in Cambria and Somerset counties as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, Walter Reed National Military Center in Washington, D.C., and hospitals in Germany.
Each quilt has a label that includes the name of the recipient as well as the names of the piecer and quilter.
“We write a note to each recipient and tell them of our gratitude for the job they are doing,” Wilson said. “We also make a coordinating pillowcase where they can store each quilt.”
Wilson has kept a scrapbook showing each quilt the women have sent and many of the requests and thank-you letters from recipients.
“So many of the quilts go to those who have been injured by IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” Wilson said.
Most of the quilts are red, white and blue, but they can be any color. Some of the designs are original, but most are patterns that have been used repeatedly.
“We feature a lot of stars and bars, as well as some fabrics with art,” Wilson said.
Quilter Dorothy Rawski of Alum Bank admires Wilson’s commitment to the Quilts of Valor project.
“When we show up to quilt, Pat always has things organized and ready to roll,” Rawski said. “Her dedication speaks volumes about her appreciation for the acts of others and reflects on her generosity to give something back.”
Wilson purchases the bulk of the material herself.
“Who among us shouldn’t be thankful to those who serve, because they are the ones who allow us to live in a free country,” Wilson said. “It’s the least we can do.”