A cowbell sounds throughout the crowded room. Everyone cheers and applauds as a finished quilt is lifted and carried over to the binding station.
The roomfull of volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul Parish hall then get back to work, sewing and making quilts for veterans who have served in active combat.
The Quilts of Valor started when Jean Jaeger and Jackie Heggemann attended a quilt show in Paducah, Ky., in 2015. Jaeger said she picked up some literature on the national organization there. She and Heggemann started the Eastern Missouri division shortly thereafter.
At each meeting, local volunteers sew together patriotic-themed quilts from the early morning to midafternoon. One quilter, Wanda Diermann, said as she sewed a quilt featuring a large bald eagle in flight, the first time the organization met, they had around 24 quilters. Now they have more than 70 in a usual gathering.
Diermann and her daughter, Debbie Thomas, who rang the cowbell signifying the completion of another quilt, are regular volunteers. The group meets two to three times a month from March to October.
Most of the materials are donated by members and all of the quilt tops are put together by volunteers at home. When the quilters meet, the tops are pinned together with insulating batting in the middle, and then hand sewn together.
Recently, the group has had so many quilts that they have started using a couple of sewing machines. A table of roughly four to eight members work together to sew each quilt.
One volunteer said, “The quilting holds material together to create a beautiful piece of artwork.”
Another mother-daughter duo, Brenda Kohne and Melba Williams, worked on a red, white and blue striped quilt with a waving American flag in the middle. Kohne said she learned to quilt and embroider from her grandmother in high school and tries to accompany her mother to the Quilts of Valor sessions as often as she can.
The quilts, in addition to being meticulously hand sewn, have a special element to them.
“Each quilt has an embroidered heart, sometimes hidden in the quilt’s pattern,” said Kohne. Often, recipients eagerly search for the heart on the quilt like a puzzle.
Many of the quilters are retired and senior women who donate much of their time to the cause.
“It’s a very worthwhile and rewarding experience,” said one quilter. “Where you see where these quilts are going, it warms your heart.”
This session, which took place Monday, June 3, was held at St. Vincent’s Parish. Each session changes location to different areas in the community including Wentzville, Concord Hill and other towns.
A couple of quilts are normally presented to veterans during each sewing session, although the group was unable to on Monday due to scheduling complications.
The Quilts of Valor have made and given nearly 3,000 quilts over the years.