Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Land of Lincoln QOV'ers

Troop Talk: Quilting group makes blankets for returning service members
By Nancy Strunk Kirby For The Beacon-News May 17, 2012 5:44PM

Dixie Riley of Elgin embraces a serviceman before presenting him with a quilt as part of a Land of Lincoln Quilts of Valor presentation at Aurora Central Catholic High School on Veteran's Day 2011. The quilting organization makes several hundred quilts for military personnel each year. | Submitted

At A Glance

What: Land of Lincoln Quilts of Valor, regional chapter of the international Quilts of Valor Foundation, makes quilts for soldiers returning from combat

Sponsor: Prairie Shop Quilts, 1911 W. Wilson St., Batavia, owned by Bonita Deering

Sew-ins: First Tuesday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and evening sew-in every third Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m.

Special relationship with: Great Lakes Naval Base in Chicago

Quilt count: 420 quilts distributed in 2011 with 177 and counting for 2012

Contact: Rita Pennington, 630-897-7469 or

Rita’s blog:

On the Web: (international foundation)


At the back of Prairie Shop Quilts in Batavia, something is going on. When you walk in, the chatter of women’s voices filters up to the front counter. As you make your way to the opposite end of the large shop, you hear the whir of sewing machines and detect the distinct smell of hot irons.

When you make it to the classroom area, you find 14 women busily working — sewing, ironing quilt pieces, cutting cloth, searching for materials. They’ve been here since 10 a.m. and won’t quit until 2 in the afternoon.

Welcome to the monthly sew-in of the Land of Lincoln Quilts of Valor, an organization of quilting enthusiasts who make and deliver dozens of quilts around the Midwest to military personnel returning from combat. Every three to four months, they deliver 75 to 80 quilts to a representative of Great Lakes Naval Base in Chicago.

The quilts are then presented during Returning Warrior Workshops, which take place in cities throughout the Midwest to help honor and provide transitional support to returning sailors. The workshop culminates in a Saturday night banquet, where service members and their spouses are presented with awards and a quilt from Land of Lincoln Quilts of Valor.

Other quilts are distributed to vets through Hines VA Hospital, Operation Welcome You Home and other groups who make requests. Each quilt is affixed with a label bearing the name of the recipient and the names of the quilters.

“People just want to help,” says Rita Pennington of Aurora, who serves as the state’s regional coordinator for the national foundation. “They want to do something for the soldiers. It’s their way of giving back.”

Let the quilting begin

Pennington is lovingly known as the “sergeant” of the sewing troops who assemble once a month for their sew-ins. She maintains an extensive blog for the group, which highlights upcoming local and regional events, makes calls for donations and keeps a running count of quilts distributed to troops. For 2011, 420 quilts were presented, with a tally of 177 and counting for 2011.

At the end of a recent Tuesday sew-in, Pennington packed up her car with works in progress: 17 tops ready for backing, five finished quilts and 12 quilts still needing bindings.

Pennington, a lifelong seamstress, began sewing for Quilts of Valor on her own in 2004. Four years later, she approached Prairie Shop Quilts owner Bonita Deering about using the classroom space in her shop for a “sew-in.” Only four people came to the first event in 2008, but the word spread quickly in the quilting community. Gatherings have attracted up to 22 participants.

Quilters can come and go, putting in as much time as they are able, but most stay for the entire event, bringing a dish for a potluck lunch, which many quilters eat at their sewing stations, barely taking a break from their work.

Those unable to make the sew-ins can pick up kits they can work on at home and drop off at the shop. Ladies of the Land of Lincoln chapter span a range of cities, including Aurora, North Aurora, Carol Stream, Elburn, Kaneville, Millbrook, Montgomery, Oswego and Rolling Meadows.

Supporting the troops

Maggie Alvarado, of Rolling Meadows, a quilter for 20 years, has a son who served in Iraq and is stationed in Hawaii. Another son, serving with the Navy, died four years ago at Great Lakes Naval Base because of complications from a skull fracture.

Letting troops know that “we appreciate them” is what motivates her, Alvarado says. “You don’t realize how much these quilts and getting care packages mean to them,” she said.

All the materials for the quilts are donated, with quilters using personal stashes of supplies, and other supporters donating materials and money. The group attends events like the Aurora Farmers Market, raffling quilts to raise funds.

Deering, who has owned Prairie Shop Quilts for six years, says it was natural to say yes to the request to donate her classroom space for the Quilts of Valor group in 2008. Giving is part of the culture of quilting, she explains.

“Quilters are just generous people,” Deering says. “It’s something we can do — it’s a skill we have that people appreciate.”

Karen Lamboley of Montgomery brought along several friends from the Oswego area when she joined the quilting group several years ago. Lamboley’s husband served in the Air Force, and all four of his brothers are vets, with two serving in the Navy, one in the Army and one in the Marines. With that kind of military background, she knows what seemingly small gestures mean to service personnel.

“Our soldiers are just so grateful,” Lamboley says.

And although they can’t always be physically present when quilts are handed to deserving military personnel, the sewing ladies at Quilts of Valor know that their work is meaningful.

“We get the most loving notes from families about how much it meant to them,” Pennington says. “It’s an incredible feeling.”

The group’s quilting efforts are meant to send a simple message.

“We back home do care for the troops,” Lamboley says. “We worry about them and pray for them and want to support them in any way we can.”

Email freelance writer Nancy Kirby at with ideas.

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