Monday, 13 March 2017

Aussie Hero Quilts

Nearly two years ago we shared a story on Aussie Hero Quilts but after seeing their recent call for help, we've decided to share the story again in a more public forum in the hope that it reaches more of you. Plus it was announced this week that over 7000 quilts and 13000 laundry bags have been delivered thanks to Aussie Hero Quilts and that deserves to celebrated!

Sometimes you just want to make a quilt. Sometimes you don’t have a recipient in mind, or a plan – you just want to make something lovely to make someone happy, even if that someone is a stranger. This is how I felt recently so I decided to revisit a charity I’d heard about – Aussie Hero Quilts. Let tell you a little about them, and it might touch your quilty heart too.

Aussie Hero Quilts sends handmade quilts and laundry bags, made by quilters all over Australia, to our deployed service men and women overseas. This includes personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as one of the ships deployed in the Middle East, and the United Nations Peacekeepers in South Sudan, Eqypt and Israel. In sending these quilts and laundry bags, it’s a way for us civilians to say thank you and show our appreciation for all that our Aussie servicemen and women do for our country. What can be better than that? These men and women sacrifice a lot, being away from the family and their everyday life, to serve our country. It seems a small thing to send them a quilt as a way of saying thank you. Plus, it’s a fantastic excuse to sew (because we all need that, right?!).

I was really interested in the work that Aussie Heroes do and decided to become a part of it. A quick look into the blog and Facebook page, and I sent an email off to Jan-Maree Ball, the founder. She has been an amazing help for a newcomer and her passion for what she does is absolutely contagious. This charity does such an amazing job – it seems only right to spread the word and tell our fabulous readers about them.

I asked Jan-Maree about why she had started Aussie Hero Quilts. She explained that there were a few reasons behind the decision. “One day I heard about a soldier in a rehab hospital who was injured in Afghanistan, and whilst in the hospital in Germany, he was given a red, white and blue Hero Quilt by the Americans so that he would not be the only man in the ward without a quilt. I was deeply touched by the generosity of the Americans, but was ashamed that there was nothing from his own country for him. I am really pleased to say that he is a good friend of mine now and has one of our quilts himself. He uses it all the time.” On a more personal level, (and I found this resonated with me too), one of Jan-Maree’s reasons for Aussie Heroes was due to a part of our Australian history that we’re perhaps not so proud of. “Although I was only young at the time, I’ve always felt ashamed of the way our Vietnam Vets were treated when they came home. One of my quilt recipients told me that he had friends who wished they had never come back to Australia because of the way they were treated. We cannot, must not ever let that happen again.”

The Aussie Heroes motto is ‘We care about the people, not the politics or the mission’. This resounded deeply with me. Regardless of the reasons for our troops being in various parts of the world, it seems so important that we Aussies appreciate what they do for us, and support them in whatever way we can. If it means getting creative and making a quilt (or laundry bag), then that seems like a fabulous way to show our appreciation.

The defence member or families on their behalf send a request for a quilt or laundry bag to Aussie Heroes. While they can’t always be guaranteed a personalised item, requests are welcome and the quilters involved endeavour to meet these. Jan-Maree sends out a request list once a week to interested quilters, listing each quilt/laundry bag request (with details such as favourite colours, hobbies or interests). A quilter chooses which one they would like to make and lets Jan-Maree know. From that point there’s usually five or six weeks to get the quilt or laundry bag (or both) made and sent directly to the recipient.

I must admit to being rather excited when I received the first request list! So many items to choose from, though in the end I chose a sports team (even though I’m certainly not an avid sports follower myself!). I love the idea of being able to tackle a bit of a challenge and make a quilt to brighten up someone’s day. With the request being for something ‘Port Adelaide’, I decided to simplify the logo and ended up with a rather striking quilt in teal, black and white. Not being a sports fan, I deferred to some of my Adelaidian friends to ensure that it was actually recognisable as representing the Port Adelaide team. Fortunately they said yes! In my enthusiasm for making something for Aussie Heroes, I talked it up quite a bit to some of my quilty friends – next thing our lovely Editor Jane was on board too! Jane took a request for ‘blue and white’ and came up with a design using up a good portion of blue scraps, and some simple applique to make a beautiful, patriotic quilt.

I asked Jan-Maree about the best sorts of quilts to make for Aussie Heroes. Jan-Maree explained that it is easier when people take requests directly from the lists. “The fact that someone that the troops don’t know has taken the time to make something specifically for them really makes them feel special and appreciated.” If you perhaps can’t manage something specific, then a masculine or gender neutral quilt is welcome – not so much of the girly quilts though. If you’re after colour guidance – blue is the most requested, along with Australian themed quilts (think Australian flag, Southern Cross or Aussie animals). Even if you’re still new to quilting, you’re very welcome to be involved. There are quilters from all levels of expertise involved so don’t let your level of quilting put you off!

There are specific guidelines for the size of the quilts to be sent to Aussie Heroes – so it’s not a case of rehoming quilts that you have already made. The quilts are made and sized specifically to fit into a Bx2 sized post box so that you can post them for free – anything posted to the members serving overseas under 2kg is free. Aussie Hero Quilts are sized to be the width of the fabric so about 42". The length should be between 70" and 75". Best part about that sizing? No need to piece together a backing for the quilt! (Okay maybe that’s just me, but that’s my least favourite part about quilting!) You can read more about the specifics for making the quilts on the blog.

While this is the first quilt I have made for Aussie Hero Quilts, it certainly won’t be my last. It is something special that quilters can do as a way of thanking someone we don’t know, but who has put everything on the line in their service to our country. When asked about her favourite part of running Aussie Hero Quilts, Jan-Maree summed it up beautifully – “It is a very powerful thing to wake up each morning and devote your time to doing something that you are passionate about. It is also wonderful to know that what you do is appreciated. I guess the best part is just simply knowing that what we do makes a big difference to the service men and women who are deployed. We are bringing them a bit of home and a reminder that the general public supports them and appreciates what they are doing. I always tell the quilters that you cannot really understand how much what we do means to the troops until you see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices and feel it in their hugs.”

-- KL

(Photos supplied by Jan-Maree from Aussie Hero Quilts)

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