August 28, 2008 · Updated 5:04 PM
SMOKEY POINT More than a dozen quilters from around north Snohomish County converged on Aunt Mary's Quilt Shop, April 19, to complete as many quilts for wounded local veterans.
American Hero Quilts makes patriotic red, white and blue quilts for injured troops from Washington state, returning from war to Madigan Army Medical Hospital at Ft. Lewis near Tacoma.
Sharon Szekely of Stanwood, who coordinates the Stanwood-Camano Hero Quilters, found out about America Hero Quilts through a machine quilting conference in Tacoma nearly two years ago.
"As the numbers of casualties and wounded mount, the need is greater than ever," said Szekely, whose husband was in the military. "We've finished 150 quilts since our group started in January of 2007, but the 'Wounded Warrior' transition program at Ft. Lewis will house 600-800 recuperating wounded veterans, for stays of up to six months each, so Madigan is asking for 100 quilts a month."
Szekely thanked the owners of Aunt Mary's Quilt Shop for allowing the quilters the use of their store. She noted that the group's numbers have increased to 40 members on their e-mail list, of whom at least 15-20 attend each of their sewing sessions, while many of the rest either provide supplies or work on quilts on their own.
Marysville's Barbara Lacey has taken classes in quilting taught by Judy Irish, an Arlington resident who took part in the group's sewing session last year.
Irish's Marine nephew was deployed to Iraq shortly after the sewing session at Aunt Mary's Quilt Shop Aug. 11, 2007, and she had donated bolts of fabric from her personal supply to be used by the rest of the group.
Although she was Irish's pupil, Lacey didn't start quilting until Szekely recruited her into the Stanwood-Camano Hero Quilters. Since then, Lacey has found it far more habit-forming than her previous hobby.
"I gave up going to the casino to do quilting," Lacey said. "My husband's fellow bridge players told him, 'If you think she's spending money now, wait until she starts quilting'"
Not only does Lacey find quilting exciting, but she also likes the good cause.
"I'm at a time in my life where I want to pay it back," Lacey said. "I've had it very good and it feels good to do this. I get high on quilting. You get to learn something new every day and you develop a great camaraderie with the other quilters."
Fellow Marysville resident Ursula Hammer has only been quilting for a year and was likewise enlisted as a "hero quilter" by Szekely.
"I wanted to help and show respect for the wounded veterans," Hammer said. "It's very relaxing and you get to be creative in your choices of colors, fabrics and designs."
Szekely shared a letter she'd received, from a soldier's mother who asked not to be identified. The letter described the change in attitude that the mother saw in her son, who's undergone extensive surgery, including several bone and skin grafts.
"He has not shown an interest in anything or anyone since he was injured," the soldier's mother wrote. "The last thing he asked before they wheeled him away was that we keep his quilt with us and make sure nothing happened to it.
"We thought we had lost him emotionally and we despaired of ever getting him back," the letter continued. "This quilt seems to give him comfort and warmth, and is the first sign that maybe our son will come back to us. This quilt is clearly something that you spent a great deal of time on. I just wanted to let you know that, to us, this quilt is hope, and to our son, it is priceless."
Szekely noted that she'd recently received a $500 anonymous donation for quilt batting, fabric and other supplies, and was promised another $500 from the same anonymous donor, as long as the group could raise a further $500 on their own.
"It wasn't even two weeks before we'd raised that $500," Szekely said. "The Women's Auxiliary of the Camano Island Fire Department gave us $100, and the Camano Island Quilting Guild gave us another $100. We've also received a donated roll of batting, enough for 15 quilts."
Szekely encouraged those interested in "hero quilting" to call her at 360-387-4800.
The American Hero Quilts Web site is located at www.americanheroquilts.com.