Spooner resident, Colette Piskie, is one of those people who has impacted so many lives here in Washburn County, but most people wouldn't recognize her on the street. That's because Colette has been the driving force in both Washburn and Barron Counties for the Quilts of Valor (QOV) program.
The QOV Foundation began in 2003 with a dream, literally. Founder Catherine Roberts' son Nat was deployed in Iraq, and Catherine says, "The dream was a vivid as real life. I saw a young man sitting on the side of his bed in the middle of the night, hunched over. The permeating feeling was one of utter despair.
“Then, as if viewing a movie, I saw him in the next scene wrapped in a quilt. His whole demeanor changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being.”
Right from the beginning, the resulting hundreds of quilts that have been created, or as the quilters like to say, “built,” are held to rigid standards. They had to be quilted either by hand or machine and not hand tied. The quilts were to be ”awarded” and not just passed out.
Colette grew up in Rockford, Illinois following her grandmother's and mother's sewing example, which she perfected thanks to her 4-H club. Up until the age of 47, she was satisfied with standard projects, and then she discovered quilting and was immediately hooked.
Colette, I can't wait to hear your story about sewing and awarding these beautiful quilts, but before that, have a sip of your caramel macchiato here at the Dock and begin with answering this question: How did you get involved with the Quilts of Valor program and have you had service members in your family?
"I got involved with QOV by watching quilting shows on television, and there are currently four generations of men in my family who have served, my grandfather during WW1, my father in WW11, my husband Larry in Vietnam and our son, is currently serving in the Navy.”
Give us an idea of the size of the quilts, and how many people and how long does it take to build a quilt and what is your part in the production and delivery?
“QOV are approximately sixty by eighty inches, or as we like to say, they're the perfect size to cover a veteran or a soldier from “nose to toes.”
“Building a quilt varies depending on the quilter and her time available. A good guess as to how much time to make a quilt would be around thirty hours of sewing and cutting for the top, more if the pattern is complicated. I piece, quilt and bind the tops for my part of producing the finished quilts.
“Requests for QOV come from the foundation or locally by nomination. Each year we have been fortunate enough to award quilts at the local Veteran's ceremony in Washburn and Barron Counties.”
Out of curiosity, how many quilts did you assemble and quilt last year and the total number of quilts you've made for this program?
“Last year I personally quilted sixteen QOV, and I would guess that I have made close to sixty quilts in all for the program.
One of the most significant award ceremonies for these quilts involved the 950th National Guard, would you update us on what that entailed, and when it was?
“This took place on December fifth in 2015 when we awarded ninety Nation Guard members with quilts.”
I would imagine that the long-arm quilting machine that you use to do the beautiful and individual quilting on each one must have cost a bundle, even though you mentioned you bought it used. Would you mind sharing with us how much you've already invested in this program and how much each quilt costs you to make?
“My long arm was purchased used for “10,000, so each quilt costs approximately $150.00 to make. And that is just my cost which includes the batting and the backing. The people who make the quilt tops pay for their fabric and thread.”
Do you have a source of funding?
“Because QOV does not find the projects, we pay all of the expense out of our own pocket. QOV's purpose is to match quilters with longarmers. My fund and all the of the quilters funding comes from personal sources. Recently I have been given donations for supplies by the Haugen American Legion, a few private sources and quilt guilds.”
The Veteran's Day program at the Spooner School seems to work best for handing out these quilts, why?
"The Veteran's Day program at the Spooner High School is awesome. The students really get involved, and it provides a warm, dry environment for celebrating our Veterans. It has momentum."
What kind of response have you received from the veterans or their families?
“We've received only positive response from everyone receiving these beautiful Quilts of Valor. It's heartwarming, and I feel so privileged to be able to give back to our soldiers and veterans in this way. It's also important in my opinion to show the Spooner youth the importance of our veterans.”
How does someone qualify to receive a quilt, where do they start the search?
"To receive a QOV, someone must be nominated. By going to QOVF.org and following the prompts, all the information is listed clearly. Ultimately the information is sent to us for all those who are local to our area. Sadly we do not award any quilt posthumously. One veteran's family did use his quilt to top his casket instead of flowers.”
You've mentioned that your family supports your efforts in making these quilts and you said that your daughter, a leader in the Girl Scouts has chosen to have her troop create a quilt top for QOV. This must make you proud.
"I am proud of each quilter that creates a QOV. I think it's awesome that my daughter has inspired her Girl Scout Troop to do a quilt at their young age.
Any last information you would like to share?
"Making and awarding a QOV is my greatest achievement. It's my passion, and I am so blessed to be able to give back to our local soldiers and veterans in this way."
Like Colette mentioned, to make these large quilts, which have over fifty thousand stitches, and the hours each quilt takes to make, this is a labor of love. A labor of love they not only get to do the physical work for but pay for the entire project themselves.
If you would like to donate to the cause, send your check, made out to Colette Piskie, to W1325 Pine Drive, Spooner, WI 54801 and touch a life with your thoughtfulness.
Diane Dryden is a features writer for DrydenWire.com and has just released the third novel in her Chicago series of books. Scott Free in Chinatown covers the south-side of the city exposing the dirty underbelly of a popular tourist destination.
Books are available from Amazon.com and locally from Northwind Book and Fiber in Spooner.