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Stitching for Soldiers

With a needle and thread at hand, a group of local quilters, a store owner, and a mother on a mission are trying to mend the injuries of wounded soldiers by sewing them colorful quilts.

Hampton Forest resident Susan Smith began the program two months ago when she saw the need to honor wounded soldiers, and her group has since donated more than 50 quilts to the cause.

"To me a quilt is a very tangible way to show caring and give comfort," said Smith. "[Soldiers] have given so much of themselves, they have made sacrifices that people don't understand or recognize — this is a way to recognize it."

Smith, whose husband is a retired Navy officer and who currently has a son in the Navy, said, "We do not want any focus on us, we want the focus on the service men and women and their needs."

The group of 12 to 15 quilters partnered with the quilt shop, The Artful Quilter in the Old Centreville Crossing Shopping Center. Its owner Sherri Alcorn, 51, of West Springfield provides volunteers with a place to work and supplies to work with.

THE GROUP of 12 to 15 quilters meets most Wednesdays to share their passion for quilting and desire to give back to the soldiers. It has become so popular that Alcorn has dubbed it The Artful Quilter's Care and Compassion Workshop.

"[Donating studio time and materials] is a way that I could contribute. If I could do anything, this was a little bit of something. I wanted to show those [military] men and women that I cared," said Alcorn.

The program takes into consideration that most people do not know how to quilt. The group provides individuals who want to help, with quilting lessons, and lets those with limited capabilities do their part — whether it be ironing or cutting material. Volunteers are encouraged to stop by or call The Artful Quilter at 703-266-3250, and contribute to the effort in any capacity.

"Twelve or 15 [quilters] may sound like a lot, but we need people to help," Smith insists. "There are jobs for everybody."

The group hopes that a local middle school will adopt the program, allowing quilters to teach students the art of quilting and expand the program to a community-wide effort.

"The program creates an opportunity for quilters to get together as a group," said Joan Unkel of Clifton a long-time quilter and program participant.

Most of the quilts made carry a cheerful patriotic theme and can be tailored specifically to a male or female. Taking weeks to complete, each quilt is different from the last and there is no opportunity, nor is there desire, to mass produce.

"A quilt is something that you can't whip out," said Smith. "The ladies who make the quilts put themselves in it; they put in their time and energy."

EACH QUILT is composed of three layers. The top is created of small colorful pieces of cloth sewn together in a pattern, creating a collage with a central theme of patriotism. Before the top is sewn to the backing, a sheet of batting (padding in a quilt) is installed between the two layers. The quilt is then completed by adding a cloth border and stitching the multiple pieces together.

Once completed, the quilts are delivered to area military hospitals where chaplains and military liaisons distribute them, not to the neediest, but to all wounded military personnel.

"The soldiers are very appreciative for the quilts," said Chaplain John Lim of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "They are often overwhelmed because they don't expect anything."

In one case, the mother of a Marine who took a full mortar blast, spoke to Smith at the hospital, to thank her for her son's quilt. The mother explained she was from Texas, and was comforted that someone in the area cared about her child and the sacrifice he made.

"[The quilt] is not only a gift to the service person, but it is a gift to their family, to let them know that someone cares about their loved one," said Smith. "People are not always kind to people in the service. As a mother, it could be my child [that is injured], I would want somebody to give him comfort, support, and let them know someone cares."

Although most of the quilters do not have the pleasure of hearing back from the recipients, they offer their words of thanks by embroidering the following message on the back of every quilt: "This quilt was made especially for you in gratitude for your service to our country and well wishes."