Skip to Main Content

Quilting for a Purpose

Winneshiek County Community Foundation
December 1, 2016

Decorah Quilts of Valor is a local group of women quilters who are part of the larger national nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring veterans with a handmade, Americana quilts. Decorah’s regional group formed in 2014, and in that year the group presented one quilt at Nordic Fest. Just two years later, the women presented 26 quilts at the festival. Overall the group has awarded over 100 quilts.

“We started the group because or love of quilting and our love of veterans,” said Joni Johnson, who started the Decorah group. “It has given us so much more than we’ve given it.”

Over the years, the group has grown with new members and have gained insights and training on how to improve their success. However, it is up to each Quilts of Valor group to fund their creations.

“Many other groups are still self-funding because they haven’t found out how to fundraise or apply for grants. We are able to do this because of the funding from organizations like the Community Foundation. That’s what keeps us going otherwise, we wouldn’t have the means to purchase all the fabric,” said Johnson.

All money granted and donated to Quilts of Valor goes into the quilts allowing the women to continue donating their time in honor of Winneshiek County veterans. “It’s something I can do to say thank you. You can only sew so many for your own bed – now we do it for a purpose. For the love of veterans,” said Julie Lukes, one of the key organizers of the group.

The handmade red, white, and blue quilts are created with the utmost care and precision and are presented to veterans as an act of respect and honor. To qualify for a quilt, veterans must feel they have been touched by war.

“We visit with the veterans and ask them that question because they are the only ones that can answer that. You can have someone who shoots live rounds or you can have someone stateside who may have been ready to go at a moment’s notice. Both situations can count as being touched by war,” said Lukes.

Quilts of Valor does much more than provide a blanket, they help open needed conversations among veterans and their families.

“Several family members have heard more about their dads’ or brothers’ time in service after receiving these quilts than they had before,” said Lukes. “They were proud to serve, but didn’t want to sound boastful or there are different reasons they haven’t shared. They didn’t dwell on what they had been exposed to. The quilt is to give comfort to those when they need it.”

Nationwide, Quilts of Valor has been able to produce over 140,000 quilts. Each dime put into the quilts either comes from the pockets of the quilters themselves or from local donors who have seen the incredible impact the quilts have on veterans and their families. The Red-Roxy Quilt Co. helps offset local cost by donating the meeting space for the group and providing a materials discount.

The impact of the quilt can’t be measured in dollar or stitches. “I was talking with one of our veterans and told him that sometimes veterans turn down a quilt,” said Lukes. “He responded, ‘If they just knew how it feels.”