Dover’s Helping Hands Quilt Guild covers community

Members of Dover’s Helping Hands Quilt Guild, from left, Mary Ditty, Sue Hoecker and Marilyn Pegg show off two quilts that will be donated to the Quilts of Valor, an organization that helps give comfort to service members and veterans touched by war. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Members of Dover’s Helping Hands Quilt Guild, from left, Mary Ditty, Sue Hoecker and Marilyn Pegg show off two quilts that will be donated to the Quilts of Valor, an organization that helps give comfort to service members and veterans touched by war. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER –– Dover’s Helping Hands Quilt Guild has everything a quilter needs to improve their own skills but the group also offers many opportunities for quilters to help others in the community.

“Although we like to quilt and that common bond makes the group fun and social, I’d say above all, we’re a service organization,” said Susan Hoecker, president of Helping Hands.

The group works on a wide variety of projects, including lap-sized quilts for hospital patients and others in need of comfort, animal beds for shelters like the SPCA and pillow cases for the young patients at A.I. duPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington.

Guild members meet on the fourth Monday of every month to listen to speakers, attend a workshop or hone in on their sewing skills for their personal and community-bound quilts.

“It’s different every month,” quilter Marilyn Pegg said. “In the quilting world there are women out there making quilts, writing books, teaching new techniques and we have them come and share their ideas with us.”

Some of the speakers who come in are in high demand and have to be booked more than a year in advance. A speaker for 2018 has already been scheduled.

“Our speaker in September is Bonnie Hunter,” Helping Hands Vice President Mary Dawn Ditty said. “Most people probably don’t know who she is, but in the quilting world, she’s a rock star so we’re very excited to meet her. And it’s these kind of people we try to get to our meetings. Speakers like these really teach and inspire our members.”

In addition to the monthly meetings, members of the guild hold weekly bees, or small group sewing sessions, to work on projects.

“We have the goal to learn new things, spend time together, improve our skills and bring all of that together to help others,” Ms. Ditty said.

One of the most well-known projects the guild participates in is Quilts of Valor –– a program that awards patriotic-themed quilts to both veterans and active-duty servicemen and women.

Quilts of Valor, now a national program, was started by Seaford resident Catherine Roberts in 2003 while her son was serving in Iraq.

The first Quilts of Valor were awarded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, but now they are awarded to individuals in their hometowns, usually at a formal ceremony.

“It’s not difficult to find local recipients,” Ms. Pegg said. “Usually someone knows a veteran or an active-duty serviceman that they think deserve one these quilts. And if you know one of these people but don’t have any connections with a quilting group, you can go right on the Quilts of Valor website (qovf.org) to get connected.”

Quilts of Valor aren’t just like any ordinary quilt. They’re all patriotically themed and are a culmination of the work of many.

“All these squares were made by different members,” Ms. Ditty said while showing a recently completed example.

“We give out the patterns at our meetings and a lot of the squares are completed at home and brought back or they’re done at workshops. It depends, but it always takes a lot of people to get done.”

Large quilts like the Quilts of Valor usually use about 20 different squares and depending on the difficulty and the quilter’s skill level, a square can take anywhere between two and four hours to complete.

One of the latest Quilts of Valor used a very intricate pattern and took approximately 85 hours of work by 20 quilters to finish.

“The girls bring in the squares when they’re finished then one or two people get started sewing them together,” Ms. Hoecker said.

The quilt is then made into a sandwich –– the top layer of blocks that have been sewn together then batting underneath with a bottom layer of solid fabric.

The three layers are quilted together using a specialized sewing machine and the quilting can be as simple as a grid or as complicated as stars and swirls.

One of the final steps is binding –– hand stitching a strip of fabric along the edges of the quilt to seal it.

“It’s amazing. Sometimes you’ll see these big muscular tough guys that get a quilt and they actually get tears in their eyes, saying ‘I can’t believe people actually put in so much time working on this for me,’” Ms. Pegg said.

As a final touch, each quilt has a label on the back usually including the year the quilt was made, the town where it was made and the names of everyone who worked on it.

“Generations down the line, when someone is handed down this quilt, they’ll want to know when it was made and who it was from. So we put all the information right on the quilt,” Ms. Pegg said.

If you’d like to contribute to a Quilt of Valor, fabric contributions are always welcome. The guild does ask that fabrics have a red, white and blue color scheme or patriotic design.

To drop off items or if you have sewing skills and would like to make squares for a quilt, stop by a Helping Hands meeting to pick up a pattern the fourth Monday of every month at First Baptist Church, 301 Walker Road in Dover. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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