Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wrapping the war wounded in a big quilt hug: Quilts of Valor Tink Linhart's story

When her son was deployed to Iraq, Tink and other parents of her son's United States Marine Corp group got together and made quilts -- 74 of them! Amazing dedication! And that's BEFORE she got involved in Quilts of Valor. Shown here is one of the 74 quilts the parents pieced and quilted. Note the second photo shows the grid key for quilt square placement. The third photo features a Marine Star pattern Tink made for Lt. Col. AJ Kostic, USMC.

Below is Tink's own story of her journey to quilting and beyond. And don't forget the contributions from her husband, Dick. -- Dawn

In her own words: Tink Linhart

I love quilts. I have always loved quilts. My first quilt memory was as a child visiting my parents’ friends at their Stowe, VT home. I was snuggled under several quilts in a tiny bedroom under the eves - feeling much like Laura & Mary in their Little House on the Prairie.

Like so many of my generation, I learned to sew clothing in home economics (sewing took, cooking didn’t). I started making most of my clothes -- still have that wrap skirt pattern (which might fit around one thigh today). I college I learned to crochet and do counted cross stitch, and continued to sew clothing, including a bathing suit that my parents wouldn’t let me wear until I added at least an inch of lace to the top of the bra.

I met my husband, Dick, in college (don’t recall if he ever saw that bathing suit). I even made a wild shirt or two for him -- reflective of the style of the early 70’s (am I a catch or what?) Being the ever practical and not particularly romantic guy that he was/is, in lieu of an engagement ring, he presented me with a used Pfaff 130 sewing machine that pre-dates me by at least a decade! (It’s a work horse and still my favorite machine all these years later).

Our first quilt creation was foisted upon us by my mother. When we announced our engagement my mother purchased yards and yards of calico fabrics. She graphed out a quilt design and for our first anniversary presented us with the box and the graph. All through graduate school Dick worked to re-design the flip side of the quilt, cut out the blocks, sewed three sides of the blocks together, turned them, and then neatly layered batting in that little pillow. Assembling this king size quilt got me a new Kenmore with cams so that I could piece the blocks together using a decorative stitch (after blind stitching all those fourth sides closed by hand). Dick finished the master piece by hand tying each square in five places. That quilt has travelled thousands of miles and survived years of wear, and one day will rest inside a duvet cover.

Flash forward 20+ years and we are waving goodbye to our son as the Marines drive him off into the July 2003 sunset, just weeks after his high school graduation. During those intervening years I’d added English smocking to my repertoire of hand crafts and created a handful of quilts - mostly “cheater cloth” baby quilts. I did managed to piece a Christmas quilt for us and quilt it with stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

I took a leap and adapted the eagle quilt in Eleanor Burns Star Spangled Favorites and made it a two sided signature quilt for Jon’s graduation/farewell party. October 2004 found Dick semi-retired and loving his new job, Jon hanging around Kuwait awaiting the airlift into Iraq for the re-taking of Fallujah, and me gainfully Unemployed (and loving it), and having just been diagnosed with breast cancer. We were fortunate to make connections on with other parents in USMC 1 / 3 and, ultimately, became part of the “unofficial” 1 / 3 parent group.

By February 2005, when our guys are finally heading home, we parents started talking about meeting them when they returned to their home base in Hawaii. Being in a radiation haze, I suggest that we make quilts for the families of our fallen (48 Marines and 5 sailors did not return from that deployment). The handful of us thinking about this had just about no quilting experience, but who cared? I started thinking wall hangings….

Pretty soon we’re just talking “whatever” and the quilts will include a large memorial square with the name, rank, company, and dates of the fallen Marine or sailor, as well as the EGA embroidered on it (EGA in this case is Eagle, Globe, & Anchor - the Marine emblem - not Embroiderer’s Guild of America).

Over the course of the next 11 ½ months, 3,317 10.5” quilt blocks came through the door of our little house and were squared on my cutting table. Using the floor between our living & dining rooms, Dick laid out 74 quilts. Another Marine mom tracked down a P&B white star on navy ground that we used for sashing in the 72 Memorial Quilts and the quilt for our most severely wounded Marine (the 74th quilt was a “thank you” to the wife of our sons’ executive officer for holding us all together throughout an exceptionally difficult and deadly deployment). The quilt rows were numbered, the quilts kitted, and they were assembled and then quilted by people from all over the United States and Okinawa.

During this time, I was introduced via email to Marcia Stevens (who came to our rescue and found long arm quilters for the remaining 20 quilts) and to Catherine Roberts, the founder and energy behind Quilts of Valor.

It took a year for me to emotionally heal from our USMC 1 / 3 Memorial Quilts Project; it took Dick a little longer. After creating some fun pieces, and having a blast with art bras, I was ready to jump in to Quilts of Valor.

Catherine Roberts founded Quilts of Valor in 2003. One quilt was presented that year. Her intent was to unite quilters in creating and presenting Quilts of Valor to any and all service members who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, whether or not their wounds are visible, including TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). By August of 2009 over 24,000 Quilts of Valor had been delivered. In August our mission statement changed to include all those “touched” by any war. I haven’t seen official numbers yet, but I think I can confidentially say that 30,000 Quilts of Valor have been delivered as of the end of 2009.

Quilts of Valor is an all volunteer non-profit organization. We are about people, not politics. Our standards are high: all 100% cotton quilt shop quality fabrics, 80/20 cotton/poly batting (no 100% polyester). Patriotic colors are preferred. All quilts must be machine quilted - not tied - and have to include quilting beyond stitch-in-the-ditch. All QOVs must be nicely labeled (not iron-on stuff that peels off with little handling) and include “Quilt of Valor” and the names of those involved in creating the quilt. Sizes preferred are 54” x 67” up to 72” x 87” with 50” x 60” being the absolute minimum (remember, our servicemembers and veterans deserve our best work).

Each Quilt of Valor needs to include a presentation case -- simply a pillow case for transit and presentation. We ask that everyone involved in creating a QOV also include either a letter to the recipient or a journal (I know it can be a challenge to write a letter to someone you don’t know). Photos of the quilters and/or the quilt in progress are fun for the recipient to view. Recipients have told us that they really appreciate reading about the people involved in creating their quilt and the process. They are also very touched that a stranger would care enough about them to create a quilt.

What’s really cool is that if you’re a piecer - like me - you don’t have to struggle with attempting to quilt your creation -- we have long arm quilters who volunteer their time and talents to do what they like to do! You just go to the QOV website ( and request a long armer! If you know of veterans or service members in your area who should receive a Quilt of Valor, but you don’t have one available, you can request one from the website. Should you have a completed quilt but don’t know who to give it to, you can visit the website and request a destination.

You can also use the website to find other QOV groups in your area. I do have to note that the website was hacked last fall and is still being re-worked. If you do not find what you are looking for, and cannot get a response to a question, please feel free to email me directly ( and I’ll get the information for you or find the person who can.

Dick and I are partners in our Quilts of Valor endeavors. He is actually the design eye behind this. Dick is also the one the quilt shop owners love to see coming -- not just because a man in a quilt shop who is not pouting is rare, but because HE is the one who starts pulling bolts of fabric and telling me what I need to purchase! (Eat your hearts out ladies!) The only down side to this aspect of our QOV partnership is that he is light years ahead of me in designs; it would take several of us sewing 40+ hours per week to keep up with him (interested in trying??? See my email address above!) After tiptoeing around all those quilts laid out on the floor, I finally gave Dick his own portable design wall. Now he’s talking about taking over one end of the basement (“Magic Sewing Cave”) and hanging a permanent design wall as well as having the portable design wall (help!!!)

We have had the opportunity to travel for Quilts of Valor. We made a quick overnight trip to St. Louis in June 2009 when Catherine & Gail (and her parents) were driving a van from California to Camp LeJeune, NC, picking up quilts along the way (videos of that adventure can be found on the blog: ) We handed over 17 quilts that joined the 1,204 that were presented to the Marines of 1 / 8 upon their return from Afghanistan.

In August we joined a group of QOVers in Washington, DC. It was a wonderful opportunity to finally put names and faces together. During our personal behind-the-scenes tour of Arlington National Cemetery, Dick and I were thrilled to meet Cindy & Dave from Connecticut whose son had served with our son! We also found three of “our” Marines in Section 60 at ANC.

Thanks to Pauline’s efforts, several of us were able to have a short guided tour of the Pentagon to see the quilt Gail had created that was hanging in the 9-11 display case (the “sister” to that quilt had been presented that morning at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington). As Marine parents, I guess we would have to say that the culminating event was the reception at the Marine Commandant’s home, followed by the last Evening Parade of the summer.

Dick and I talk about Quilts of Valor at every opportunity, and that includes farmers’ markets and quilt guild meetings and shows. I am blessed in so many ways, and that includes a very creative printer who graciously keeps me stocked with my QOV business cards. I leave cards and information flyers everywhere - and have had calls/emails from folks who picked up my flyer in Duluth (never been there) or Ohio (haven’t been there recently) or Eastern Pennsylvania (ditto Ohio).

I post on the QOV blog and then post links to those posts on Facebook and Connecting Threads. I love what I do and I want to share this passion with anyone who will listen. What is more joyful than to get to play with fabrics, colors, layouts (okay, so Dick gets to do most of that), sing while I sew, and then present a quilted hug of gratitude to a service member or veteran?

Wrapping each of our wounded in one of these quilted hugs of gratitude sounds impossible, but it is simple. There are over 25 MILLION quilters in this country. If each of us creates one patriotic quilt we can hug lots and lots of veterans and active duty service members returning from the war zones (we’ve got over 3,200 recently home right here in Wisconsin!) Individually and together, we truly can make a difference.


Laura Krasinski said...

Tink and Dick have inspired me sooo much. I have given 2 quilts to soldiers that I met or have known. I have Oconomowoc quilt guild to thank for making that possible.. I am 1/4 inch seam illiterate and make mostly quilts that go on the walls. But, these gals along with many others have done so much for the QOV program. Thanks to all the quilters out there that have worked on these quilts. And many thanks to Catherine for starting QOV.. and most of all thanks to Tink and Dick for all their hard work which is never ending.. you guys are the best...

Sally said...

I have known Tink since High School. She brings enthusiasm to everything she touches.

I am guessing that love that she (and now with Dick) puts into these no doubt actually exudes from the cloth to the one who receives the quilt.

Love has a way of growing when it's shared. Thanks you guys,

Sally Franz

Mary Aalgaard said...

Your article in Fundsforwriters was excellent. Thank you for sharing that story and inspiring all of us to swat the gnats!

Peg said...

Tink, I always love hearing about and from you two and take every effort to promote QOV where ever I can. You both are such an inspiration and I will continue you to shout praises from the roof-tops. Hopefully we'll meet in