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Written by Carol Pomeday   
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 16:55
Judy Ruppel was framed by her sewing machine as she worked on a camouflage quilt for a soldier.
                                                                 Photo by Sam Arendt

Fredonia seamstress Judy Ruppel is leading an effort to make the CamoQuilts prized by soldiers in war zones

Making camouflage quilts for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is the latest project for seamstress Judy Ruppel of Fredonia, who said she was inspired by her daughter’s charity work.

Ruppel is organizing volunteers to assemble quilts for the CamoQuilt Project, which will provide the fabric, batting and instructions.

The first workshop will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, in the fellowship hall at St. John Lutheran Church, 824 Fredonia Ave., Fredonia.
The group will meet every second and fourth Saturday to make quilts, Ruppel said.

“I haven’t tried to organize anything like this before,” she said. “But Michel (DeLisle, her daughter, who leads medical missions to Haiti twice a year) recently said, ‘Have you ever thought of starting a sewing ministry.’

“I heard about this project and went to Plymouth with a group from our church to see the operation, and I knew this is what I wanted to do. This is all in God’s hands because this is a wonderful project.”

The military issues sleeping bags but not blankets to soldiers, Ruppel said.

Soldiers like the small camouflage quilts because they’re lightweight, don’t take up room in their backpacks and can be used in a variety ways, mostly for sleeping on or under and protecting them from the harsh climate, she said.

Pastor Robert Zick embraced the project and set aside room for the sewers to start a satellite branch of the Plymouth project.

“But this isn’t just for our church. This is for everyone in the area,” Ruppel said. “People don’t have to sew. There are lots of things that need to be done that don’t require sewing.

“We also need sewing machines. We have two already, but we need more. I would like at least 12. It becomes tiresome for volunteers if they have to lug their sewing machines back and forth.”

The CamoQuilt Project, which has sent 8,350 quilts to soldiers, started with a camouflage quilt that Linda Wieck of Plymouth made in April 2006 for her son-in-law when his Army Reserve unit was deployed to Iraq.

While he was training at Camp Shelby, Miss., other soldiers saw the quilt and asked if they could buy one.

Wieck made 48 quilts for everyone in the unit by July 2006, when the soldiers were sent to Iraq.

After a newspaper article about her efforts, Wieck received more requests for quilts and offers to help make them. She conducted workshops to train others.

Her partner, Diane Meyer, joined the organization in 2006 when her son was deployed to Iraq. She and her husband Ron have been active ever since and conduct most workshops.

The quilts are made of surplus fabric used for Army, Air Force and Marine camouflage uniforms.

“We buy the fabric that’s been rejected by the military. The print may be off or the weave not right,” she said. 

The quilts are 45 inches wide by 72 inches long, fold in thirds and roll up like a sleeping bag.

They have cotton batting, which breathes better in extreme heat, and weatherproof material, when it’s available, for the back, Meyer said.

Any soldier who is serving in the Middle East is eligible to receive a quilt, Meyer said.

“We get requests from family and friends of soldiers and sometimes the soldiers themselves and officers for the men under their command,” she said.

“Sometimes people want to add a personal touch, such as a photograph or a different fabric backing, but we want them to be as uniform as possible.

“The Army approved them for soldiers to use, but they didn’t design them. It’s the same design Linda used for her son-in-law. We know the design works and is accepted by all branches.”

The quilts are rolled and tied with a cool tie (a neck band that can be soaked in water to keep cool). A card made and signed by the quilters is tucked into each quilt.

Ruppel hopes her group will put a dent in the 1,100 quilts that have been requested for soldiers.

Soldiers receive the quilt for free, but the person requesting them pays the shipping cost, Meyer said. It costs between $20 and $25 to make each quilt.

“Cash donations are always accepted,” she said.

Ruppel has donated her sewing skills before, but usually for her daughter, a paramedic-firefighter with the Wauwatosa Fire Department who devotes
much of her spare time to helping people in Haiti (see related story on page 3C).

Most recently, Ruppel made 75 medical bags that were given to Haitians who DeLisle and her 17-year-old daughter Dylan trained in emergency first-aid in October. Ruppel also made 30 floral print bags for personal hygiene items for Haitian women and collected money for her daughter’s trip.

“We held soup dinners at church and I set out donation cans to collect money for her trip to Haiti last year because nobody pays her way. Everything that is donated goes to the medical mission,” Ruppel said.

“Occasionally, she says, ‘Mom, can you do this?’ I made the 75 medical bags in three weeks. When I took them to her, she said they weren’t very pretty. They were made from leftover upholstery fabric, a blue-grey tweed and a grey-and-white plaid. It turned out only men were in the first-aid classes, so the bags were perfect.

“I enjoy making things for her because it is so important to her,” Ruppel said. “Her heart is so big and so generous that if I can help her, it makes me feel good, too.”

For more information on the Fredonia workshops, call Ruppel at 692-9563.

Information on the CamoQuilt Project is at www.camoquiltproject.blogspot.com.

 
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