Our Quilts of Valor Mystery Quilt-a-Long was so popular that we thought everyone would want to learn more about the designer behind the mystery quilt, Alycia Carmin of Alycia Quilts. Alycia shared with us how she got started quilting, how she came to be involved in Quilts of Valor, and why all quilters should support this great organization. If you finished your Mystery Quilt, sign up for Kimmy Brunner's Craftsy course Quilting with Templates to learn how to quilt it!
First, Alycia shared her unique and touching story about how she got into quilting.
My dad is a firefighter/EMT and a fire chaplain. When the Twin Towers were hit on 9/11 he was called in to work with the firefighters and coordinate services. He was instrumental in the memorial services as well. In the fire department it is a tradition to trade department patches, and with all the various departments on scene he came home with about 40 patches.
He brought them to me and said he wanted a quilt made out of them. I had never made a quilt before, so I went to the store and bought Log Cabin Quilt in a Day by Eleanor Burns and got started. The patches are approximately 4 inches, making the center of each log cabin at least 5 inches. This ended up giving us a 120 x 140 inch quilt (you see where this is going, right?). Next I had to quilt it, and I tried under my tiny little machine. I then decided there had to be a better way, and instead of driving to town (30 minutes away) and asking the local quilt shop, I bought a quilt magazine and convinced my husband I needed a longarm quilting machine.
Of course, I was right, but at the time that quilt became awfully expensive! I now do machine quilting as a business, so it was a great investment in the end.
She also told us about where she finds her inspiration for her patterns, and how veterans influence her designs.
The first couple of Quilts of Valor that I made were patterns of other designers. I love love love the way that Atkinson Designs are explained, so the very first pattern I designed (the Not So Top Secret Project) was designed to be as simple and as easy as I perceived some of her patterns to be. It got its name because my kids tease me that I can keep secrets for millions of years, so I had better start sharing this pattern before I was done...
Now for my designs I see elements that I like and try to figure ways to combine them into simple, easy patterns. I think I have that Quilters ADD – if something takes me too long, I tend to forget it exists. So for me, I need to make them do-able in a shorter amount of time.
The rail fence is obviously not my original design. However, I wrote a simple "how to" for a 5-rail quilt based on 5 yards of fabric after I had spent a day with my veterans. When we can, we like to let the veteran pick their Quilt of Valor. Sometimes there is one that really speaks to a veteran, and I like that they can feel the love from it. That day, it happened that the five vets I was with all chose a variation of a Rail Fence quilt. I want to share that sometimes simple quilts are what speak to others.
Alycia is the Regional Coordinator for Quilts of Valor in Colorado. She shared more about how she got started with this amazing organization and why she loves it so much.
I first got my long-arm right about the time that Quilts of Valor was getting started, so I thought that since I now owned a long-arm I could help do some quilting. Two months later I was asked to speak to a group of 5th graders on Veterans Day about modern-day vets (Operation Iraqi Freedom Vets). So I went in and talked about our Quilts of Valor program. A boy in the back asked if they could make a quilt. I promptly thought, "No! You're 10!" but I told him "Of course"... and we made quilts! 10 of them to be exact.
We were honored to be able to present our quilts to the chaplain at the local post in our state. We met an injured Veteran and presented him a quilt. It was my second time ever to be involved in doing this, and the stoic nature of that vet was quite impressive. He accepted our quilt with gratitude and humility, yet never batted an eye. I got to walk with him back to his room, and he broke down crying. He was lonely for his family, he was angry at being injured, and most of all the thought he had been forgotten. To know that our simple act of giving him a quilt let him know he was remembered, and could offer comfort – tore me up.
I am of the age that a lot of the people we hang out with were and still are called to duty, and many of them for more than one tour. It brought an awareness to me that there is much more to this war than just being called to duty. I watched a dear friend struggle with PTSD and was honored to be able to help in that healing process with a "hug from home" in the form of a quilt. It is compelling to me that something as beautiful yet simple as a quilt can be one of the most important forms of healing for these men and women.
Quilts of Valor is a grassroots organization. It is not funded by a large group, but by the love and hugs of many quilters. Every once in a while we get a sponsor to help cover the costs of batting, but mostly it is quilters making the donation in the form of a quilt. There is a place for every quilter – we have toppers, quilters, binders, pillowcase makers, the whole deal. And it works. To date we have been able to cover over 69,000 veterans.
I asked her what was her favorite part about Quilts of Valor, and she found it difficult to choose just one!
Absolutely everything!! Seriously, the first part that I love is that you don’t have to do it all yourself! The way it it organized allows you to get involved in making quilts at the level of experience you have with your favorite step. Second, I love that we are doing something tangible for our troops. I love that they have something to wrap around them and snuggle under that is proof they are not forgotten.
I also asked her how the Craftsy community can help the Quilts of Valor organization, and she had great suggestions for all skill levels and specialties.
How can your community help? Oh let me count the ways!! First off there are a bunch of local groups – a lot of them are registered on the Quilts of Valor website. You can join in there if you would like. Make quilt tops or finish a quilt top that you didn’t have anyone in mind for. We need our quilts to be between 55" x 65" and 72" x 90". Get the finished top to a volunteer long arm quilter (again, you can find them on our website). Got a finished quilt that fits the size requirements? Go to the website and request a destination. Follow the instructions and cover a veteran (I say that because it covers all of our military branches – we cover army, navy, air force, marines, Seabees, etc).
If you want – start a group! We started one here with three of us, and it has grown to over 25 every month. We get together and sew and cut fabrics, assemble tops, bind quilts and eat chocolate – it’s a grand ol’ time… and the more the merrier.
My own personal blog is filled with ways to help. I am the coordinator in Colorado, where we have one of seven Warriors in Transition Battalions. We house up to 700 soldiers at one time, and lately we have been in-processing between 10 and 40 newly wounded per week. That equates to roughly 100 quilts per month, and so far we have not missed one! Right now we are doing a block drive. QOV as a whole has made contacts overseas at Landstuhl, (a hospital that most of our wounded go to for beginning treatments) as well as field hospitals in Afghanistan, and this block drive is going to help ease those requests.
As someone who is constantly making quilts to give away, I wondered how often she quilts for herself versus quilting for others.
When I first started quilting, of course the first quilt I made was for my dad, but I have been enchanted ever since. The second quilt was for my youngest son, and then I made them for my other two boys, and of course, their dad needed one too!
I think I probably make one or two a year for us, my family, and the rest are really to be loved by others. I really love to share the joy of quilting, and the joy of creating with others. I also love knowing that a little part of my love is out there hugging someone.
Finally, I asked Alycia if there was anything else she wanted to share with the Craftsy community.
You can do it!! Whatever it is - really, you can. I love to let people know that anyone can learn and enjoy this form of art. I did not go to school to do this. I went to school and majored in Ag Business and Animal Science, and I used to work with ranchers, and vets, and sales reps, and was truly the farthest thing from teaching kids and art. Yet here I am… and I have loved every step of getting here, and love seeing where it will take me.
Alycia, thank you so much for telling us your wonderful story and sharing your beautiful pictures with us! I am so moved by the work Quilts of Valor does for our veterans. If you are equally moved, consider participating in some of the ways Alycia highlighted above.