At the Buena Vista Riverside Lodge north of town, about 10 women with the Chaffee County Quilts of Valor gathered for their fourth annual National Sew Day quilting retreat.

Having reached their goal of 1,000 quilts and currently up to 1,060, Quilts of Valor will keep making quilts for veterans “until they’re no longer needed,” said Linda Lafford, founder of the local Quilts of Valor chapter.

She currently has 25 girls registered in Quilts of Valor National. Though they don’t meet and sew together, the girls can sew at home and send the tops to Linda so she can complete them for the next veteran.

At the retreat, Lafford began work on another patriotic quilt. “We try to do most of them patriotic, but there are some women who don’t want patriotic quilts so we do some in other colors too,” she said.

Lafford often gets her quilting patterns online from Stonehenge Fabrics. These allow her to simply follow the pattern, helping her identify which color needs to be cut to a certain length and how each piece will be sewn together.

As a member of Homes For Our Troops, her husband directed her to Stonehenge Fabrics years ago when she got started in quilting. “I made my first quilt and sent it to Hawaii,” Lafford said, “and promptly sat down and cried. I said, ‘I can’t believe I just did that.’” She continued doing this for a couple of months, finding other women with a mutual interest to join her one by one.

Of course, not every quilt is based on the same pattern. “There are times when we don’t want to do anything really fancy, so we’ll do what we call a rail fence,” Lafford explained. For this pattern, the women will cut four strips of fabric, sew them together, then repeat. The next block of strips will be turned to go down the side, the next straight across and so on, creating a rail fence appearance. While a much simpler pattern, it results in beautiful quilts that the women have made many a time.

At her third National Sew Day with Quilts of Valor, local Lynn Dryzmala was busy working on a pattern she bought at a quilt meeting, one that she felt should definitely be a Quilts of Valor quilt. Instead of a regular sewing pattern, however, her quilt involved more appliqué – decorative needlework used to sew smaller pieces of fabric to a larger piece.

“I’ve been appliquéing all kinds of eagles and flags and different things onto (the quilts),” Dryzmala said. “It’s been fun. I figured I could make 10 or 15 of these and it’d be really nice.”

Making quilts is “always a learning process.” Much of the time, she gets her inspiration from what she finds online and what she sees others work on, and she teaches herself a lot of techniques like appliqué.

Nearby, Nathrop resident Connie Biederbeck, a Quilts of Valor quilter since 2014, worked on a sea swept quilt using a spiraling snail’s trail pattern and foundation paper piecing in which the paper with the pattern is used as the sewing foundation for the fabric pieces – a trickier style with a great payoff.

“The thing with paper piecing, you don’t want to get it too small because otherwise you’re ripping out a lot. You make all these different blocks and put them together, and it just has an interesting look,” Biederbeck said. “Every place you look, you can see something different. There it’s just a rectangle, but then when you look at it altogether, it turns into a star. That’s fun to see those things come to life.”

Biederbeck planned to present the quilt to Nestlé, one of Quilts of Valor’s biggest sponsors, as a thank you gift. “The colors and the motion reminded me a lot of water, and I figured that’d be a good one for Nestlé,” she said.

Most of the Quilts of Valor quilts go to the VA Hospital in Denver and are presented to the graduates of the PTSD program. Others are presented to veterans in person. Lafford personally has met many veterans from around the country and given them quilts made in Chaffee County.

“There are days when I think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ because I’m really tired. And then I’ll go to the mailbox and there’ll be a thank you letter. Okay, now I can start all over,” she said with a laugh.

She also related a letter she and the Quilts of Valor women received last year from an Oregon man who had been given a quilt at the VA Hospital. “He told us what he’d been through and how he was treated when he came back. He said, ‘This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. I told my daughter that I want to be buried with this quilt.’ We all cried when we read that,” Lafford said.

Dryzmala reflected on a rail fence-pattern quilt they presented to another veteran and his golden retriever, Disney. She met the duo as she was about to leave City Market, and she asked him how he ended up with a service dog. He told her he had been hit with an IED (improvised explosive device) and suffered from seizures ever since. The dog would alert him up to 2 hours in advance of a seizure, allowing him time to prepare if he’s doing something like driving.

Realizing he was a veteran, Dryzmala called Lafford right then and there and requested a quilt be made for the man, who “almost started to cry and said, ‘Oh ma’am, there are so many people more deserving than me.’” Nevertheless, she got him and Disney to come into Bev’s Stitchery to receive a personal quilt.

To those interested in quilting or the cause, Lafford recommends checking out the local Quilts of Valor website, www.ccqov.org, which her husband keeps updated with photos and contact information. Anyone may sponsor a quilt for $100 which covers all the fabric and the postage for shipping.

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