By Lisa Ridder
When Jennifer Schmidt’s grandfather was awarded a quilt by the Atonement Cross Piecers, a chapter of the Quilts of Valor Foundation (QOVF), in Fargo, she decided that she wanted to join the group and help make quilts to honor veterans. But before Jennifer joined, she recruited her friend, Jessica Osland, to join, and her three daughters, Delia (16), Claire (13), and Ruby (11) to tag along.
The group of ladies, the Oslands from West Fargo and Jennifer from Mapleton, started volunteering for the Atonement Cross Piecers about a year ago. They were uncertain what to expect, and didn’t expect the variety of experiences, challenges, friendships, and life lessons that lie ahead.
“I joined, and the girls attend when they can to help out,” said Jessica. “Jennifer irons, and we sew.”
Before they joined the group, Jessica didn’t quilt at all. Now... “We got a second sewing machine for the house, and have a designated quilting area where we can lay things out on the floor,” she said.
The Atonement Cross Piecers initially started as a quilting group housed in donated space at Atonement Lutheran Church in Fargo. “We made liturgy quilts until the walls were filled,” said Judi Lundstrom, one of the original members of the group who knew the Osland girls from judging 4-H at the Red River Valley Fair. “We did some investigating and decided to become a QOVF group. The church has allowed us to continue to use the space.”
The mission of QOVF is to “cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.”
While many of the current 25 members of the Atonement Cross Piecers are seasoned quilters, that was not the case for Jennifer, Jessica and the Osland girls. And it is not a requirement.
“We have a very inclusive group and anyone is welcome to join us,” said Lundstrom.
The girls enjoyed going to the monthly meetings, presentations, meeting people, wearing red, white and blue, seeing unexpected familiar faces, and hearing the veterans’ stories.
Lundstrom, who formerly worked with North Dakota State University with the North Dakota Extension Service, helped the Osland girls get up to speed.
Starting in early 2019, the Osland girls worked on making pillow/presentation cases and sewing blocks into squares for the ladies to use. Then last summer, Lundstrom had a pattern and a plan for the girls. She personally worked with the girls at each monthly meeting.
“There were three lessons and homework for each lesson.” said Judi. “The first lesson had two parts to it. The first part was learning the flying geese pattern to sew the stars, and the second focused on squaring the stars to sew together. The next lesson was working with the strips for the quilt top. And the final lesson was putting it all together with the borders. We didn’t have any youth in the group (before the Oslands),” said Judy. “They did really good work. They brought a new sense of enthusiasm and motivation to the group. It also helped that Jessica was able to provide guidance and supervision for their homework. We really enjoy having Jennifer, Jessica, and the girls as part of the group.”
And the girls loved it, too.
“We learned something new each time,” said Delia.
“And we had homework too,” Clare smiled.
Ruby said they learned to make cases and sew squares together to be used on other quilts.
“I can make the cases by heart,” said Ruby.
The group strives for perfection, trying to make sure cases match the quilts, or at the very least, look really nice with them. The girls, under the guidance of their mom, matched the same desire to reach perfection, soaking up every bit of knowledge they could from this group of seasoned quilters.
The ‘Quilt of Valor’ they worked on as a summer learning project was awarded to Larry Rolph, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Alice, ND. Rolph’s granddaughter, Jaidyn Rolph of West Fargo, even went to one of the meetings and helped work on the quilt. The quilt was one of four awarded by the group as part of Enderlin Sunflower Days last September.
“It was very special to receive a quilt from this group, and extra special that my granddaughter helped with it,” said Larry, “Thank you for this service.”
The ceremony was impactful for both the veterans and the crew who made them.
“It is fun meeting the veterans and hearing their stories,” said Delia. “It’s also been really cool meeting the people who get the quilts, knowing the quilts we helped make have an impact on them. It is fun to see their reaction to the quilts when they are presented. And I think many people were surprised when they saw young people in the group and participating in the events.”
Another powerful moment for the girls was a presentation honoring five Vietnam vets, who were part of a group that met on a weekly basis. The girls witnessed them speaking and heard their individual stories firsthand.
Besides this event, the group also makes quilts that are awarded at the Red River Valley Fair’s Hometown Heroes Event. In 2021, members awarded five quilts during this event.
The girls have now completed two quilt tops, one made last summer, and the other completed this fall.
“Right before COVID-19, they cut all these red and blue squares, and the girls were told to take them home and sew four squares into one block -- two red and two blue squares to make one block,” said Jessica. “They told us to make them random! We worked on sewing them at home (because of COVID) and made 80-90 of all these blocks of squares. Some ladies used them in quilts but they still had a bunch left so they gave them back to us and said, ‘lay them out in a pattern and sew them together to make a quilt.’ So that is what we did. Each girl worked on bits and pieces of it between sewing single squares together to make a block of four in 2020, to then this fall, sewed those blocks into rows to make a whole top in 2021 and putting a border on it.”
Everyone participated and had tasks, just like when they did for the first quilt.
“I helped with pinning,” said Jessica. “Ruby sorted all the squares by color and fabric type, and she and Claire both worked with designing it. It’s nice to spread it out on the floor and to just be able to pick it up and move it easily. Claire worked on the borders, and Claire and Delia both worked on sewing rows.”
“It is nice when we do our own quilts, because we each work on them and then it’s from all of us,” said Delia.
Jessica was proud of her girls, and felt like the experience was a great one.
“It’s a service project for them to do, and both being very active and hands on,” said Jessica, who also liked seeing their girls understand the purpose of Quilts of Valor, and the importance of the work being done to support veterans.
And the girls have learned a lot in the last year.
“I enjoyed learning new skills,” said Claire. “I used the flying geese pattern that I learned in my quilt top for 4-H to show this coming July. Without learning that I would just be sewing squares together. I also learned you have to take your time, you can’t rush things.”
“It’s been a really great experience. We’ve learned about different designs and patterns, squaring things up, and borders, just to name a few. And it’s given us confidence to try other new things,” said Delia. “We are also making a difference, giving back, and we would definitely do it again. We would encourage others to do so as well.”
Since the last quilt top they completed in the fall, the girls spent the winter being involved in various activities and have not been as active with the group, but they are looking forward to this summer when they will have more time to help.
The girls all summed up their quilting experience with the same phrase, “Really cool!”