Veterans quilting group finishes completes ninth year of quilting

Photo by Tucker Henderson
Joyce White and Kay Tougas inspect the handiwork on a veterans quilt during a quilting gathering in rural New York Mills last week.

By Tucker Henderson


Last Wednesday, a group of patriotic minded women met at Cindy Davis’ home on Rush Lake to collect the veterans quilts that have been in the works since this past winter.  ¶  The group consisted of two representatives from the VFW #3289 Auxiliary, Celia Piippo and Shirley Quist, as well as 10 quilters, two of which are also members of the Auxiliary. These quilters put together a total of 20 quilts in the span of a week this winter and two of them used their longarm quilting machines to quilt the top, batting, and backing together.  ¶  With the 20 finished quilts collected, each was pulled out of its respective bag and shown to the small group to showcase each unique pattern and the hard work put into them. Quist, President of the local VFW Auxiliary, presented each quilter with a goody-bag for their hard work and patriotic service to their community.  ¶  Nancy Olsen, organizer of the annual event, commented that this is the ninth year that “Veterans Quilting,” as they call it, has taken place. It’s likely that her connection to her sister, Joyce White, and sister-in-law, Piippo, who have both been active members in the VFW Auxiliary, spurred the first event.

Quilters and VFW Auxiliary members stand in front of the 20 quilts created this year for veterans homes around Minnesota. Pictured last week were: Celia Piippo, Kay Tougas, Cindy Davis, Sharon Imsande, Pauline Boyer, Dyann Tigges, Judy Dykhoff, Nancy Olsen, Terri Valois, Janet Gregorich, Lisa Henderson, Joyce White, and Shirley Quist.

“I don’t remember how it started,” said Olsen. “I’m sure it was a discussion through Celia. I thought to keep it more local and make those donations to places that don’t get (quilts) every year. I think that’s been a good thing. It’s more local and a lot more personal it seems.”

Nancy Olsen and Dyann Tigges display quilts made through their event for Minnesota veterans.

During a week in either January, February, or sometimes March, the quilting group meets at Olsen’s home on Rush Lake to cut, pin, and sew each quilt top together. The dates for the event are ever-changing as they are built around each quilter’s schedule for the year.

“Sometime during the winter,” said Olsen. “Whenever it works. We do have some people that go for the month of February or half of January and half of February, I just don’t get scheduled around all of them. We do what works the best.”

“This last year was not a good time,” said Olsen. “The week that we chose, the weather was so bad. We only had three days. Usually, if people need to come back or miss a day here and come another day, we go all week if we can. Four for sure is what we plan for and then if somebody needs to come back on Friday, we do Friday too.”

The quilting group consists of some seasoned piecemakers and the majority of the projects get done during the week set aside for the event. An average of about eight to 10 people come to each event, while others send in their completed quilt tops afterwards if they can’t make it. Kathy Simpson is another local member of the group and was one that was unable to attend this year, but despite the scheduling conflict, she still made two quilt tops for the event.

“Most of them get done during that time because these gals have been doing it long enough that they plan ahead,” said Olsen. “They probably have most of their pieces cut and everything and they just come and sew.”

After the quilt tops are finished, the insulating batting and the backing of the quilt are all given to either Donna Geiser or Lisa Henderson who take the pieces and use their longarm quilting machines to quilt the three pieces together. Once that’s finished, the quilts are returned to their creators and the final binding is put on to finish the edge of each quilt and a label adorns each one.

“The veterans facilities ask that they be labeled with a first name and a location,” Olsen explained. “For example, mine says, ‘Thank you for your service. Designed and pieced especially for you by Nancy of New York Mills.’ Just a personal note to the recipient.”

The veterans homes and hospitals have specific requirements with the sizes that they are able to receive. The guidelines on each quilt size is supposed to be 70 inches by 90 inches.

“It’s between a twin and a full,” said Olsen. “It used to be 63 inches by 87 inches and nobody could ever remember those numbers, so 70×90 will be much easier. It’s a little bit bigger than what we’ve been doing.”

“If you make the top exactly those dimensions and then put batting in and quilt it, you lose a couple inches. But they’re not fussy. Most of the facilities will take anything in that ballpark.”

The record for the largest volume of quilts completed in a year was either 21 or 22 and was almost met this year. The final tally of 20 quilts will be distributed to veterans homes in Fergus Falls, Fargo, Silver Bay, Luverne, St. Cloud and soon veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo, and Preston will be opening and will be able to recieve the quilts as well.

A Thrivent grant is awarded to the group each year to pay for batting and backing of the quilts, which can be quite costly. Scraps from the Trinity Quilters are saved by Pauline Boyer for the event. Boyer is a member of both groups.

“Pauline is very active in the Trinity Quilters and they get a lot of fabric donations,” said Olsen. “So, she pulls out the patriotic things especially. She says there is a lot of fabric there and if you start to plan your quilt top and you need something, come get it because it’s a donation to charity. She gave me a whole bag of squares that had already been cut. I took them from her and pretty much all three quilts that I made were made out of scraps.”

As the quilts are distributed this year, veterans from around Minnesota will be ready to cozy up with a new favorite quilt when fall returns.