I'm really excited to introduce Jan-Maree to you today. She's the founder of Aussie Hero Quilts, an organisation which sends quilts and laundry bags to Australian troops serving overseas. I have friends whose husbands have received quilts whilst on deployment and they were both very glad to receive them.
For the April Sew Quilty Workshop challenge, we're going to make some laundry bags for Aussie Hero Quilts. Jan-Maree has written a tutorial here (click on How to Make a Laundry Bag) but please only use it for the purposes of making a laundry bag. Laundry Bags should be sent to: Aussie Hero Quilts, PO Box 248, Cherrybrook, NSW, 2126. We've set the ambitious goal of making 100 bags for them this month - I think we can do it! We're going to make them throughout the month and then have a sew-in on Anzac Day.
Here's the Laundry Bag I made; it took just over an hour and was very easy.
Let's Meet Jan-Maree and find out how Aussie Hero Quilts began. The photo of Jan-Maree, as well as the selection of photos of quilts made by Aussie Hero volunteers, are copyright Aussie Hero Quilts and are used by permission.
- Tell us a bit about you?
I joined the Air Force when I was 19 years old and spent seven and a half years as an air traffic controller. Then I transferred to the Navy, first as a communications officer, and then as an admin officer. I met and married my husband David whilst we were both in the services. I stayed in the navy until just after our twin sons were born when I opted to become a full time mum. Nowadays my sons are nearly 19 years old and both are at University. My husband travels constantly for work and that leaves me plenty of time to myself which is now spent on Aussie Heroes.
- When did you start quilting?
I started quilting when I first joined the RAAF in my early 20’s. I was posted to RAAF Base Richmond and went to a TAFE course. This was before rotary cutters and mats and before you could find much in the way of patchwork fabric in Australia.
- Tells us about your first quilt?
LOL my first quilt was made completely by hand. The whole thing, including the 4” sashings were tacked on to cardboard before being sewn together by tiny overhand stitches. It was also quilted by hand with a really thick poly batting. I was so proud of that quilt and I gave it to my Nanna who loved it. She had made so many things for me during her life so it was nice to give back to her. When she passed away the quilt was returned to me and I could never part with it.
- What’s your favourite part of the quilt-making process?
I really enjoy machine applique which makes it possible for me to personalise quilts when you can’t find a themed fabric.
- Tell us about Aussie Heroes Quilts? How long has it been running? How did it come about?
How did a stay at home Mum end up starting an online group that sends quilts and laundry bags to the troops?
There are a few reasons. 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.
Additionally, although I was only young at the time, I have 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. Another recipient told me his father served in Borneo in 67' & 68' and told him that when they came back to Townsville they marched down the Main Street while people hurled abuse and threw pigs blood on them. A lot of the Soldiers took it personally and openly wept as they marched down the street. We cannot ever let that happen again. The Aussie Heroes Motto is “We care about the people, not the politics or the mission.”
The third reason is that I felt we, the Australian public, need to look after our troops better. Who do we call on when there is a natural disaster? Be it fire, flood or earthquake? We call on the Defence Force. And no matter when it is they come, or they go, where ever they are needed. There had to be a way to say thank you.
At the same time I had been searching for a community project I could get involved with. I have a strong belief that if everyone did something to give back, no matter how small, the community, the world, would be a better place. Personally, I felt a real need to do something, to give back. As I said, I was looking for an organization I could get involved with. I had not expected to start one!
I came across a warrant officer who was deployed to Afghanistan. I sat and looked at my computer and just thought “I can sit here, do nothing and move on, or I can do something and give back to him and his mates”. I asked if there was something that I could make that would make his deployment easier and the word came back that individual laundry bags would be great. Quilts would also be good if we could manage them.
Why on earth laundry bags? On a practical level, the issued laundry bags all look the same whereas ours are all different. Our laundry bags are made to last and they have put an end to bags of laundry being lost or mistakenly grabbed by the wrong person.
I convinced my quilt group to help me and together we made fifteen laundry bags, one for each member of his team and twenty five quilts. The extra quilts were given to whoever the warrant officer thought might benefit from some extra mail. Those first boxes were posted off on the 10th of November 2011. They arrived in dribs and drabs right up until Christmas.
The response was humbling.
- What do you love most about running Aussie Heroes Quilts?
I knew when I started AHQ that it would be popular. I knew that quilters would come on board and I knew the troops would appreciate it. What I did not know was just how much what we do would mean to the troops. I also did not know how much it would mean to some of the quilters who now have a purpose and some very willing recipients for their handiwork. I love knowing that we are making a difference. To know that we are showing our defence members that someone, other than their family and friends, cares about them and appreciates their service. Most of all, I love the friends I have made, both among the wonderful quilters and among the defence personnel. I am incredibly blessed to be able to devote my days to doing something that I love.
- What’s next for you?
What is next for me? I have no real plans for the future. I love what I am doing now and can’t imagine doing anything else. I concentrate on today as tomorrow is never guaranteed. I am always planning ahead for Aussie Heroes but not too far ahead as defence plans can be very dynamic. Who knew that Iraq would start up again just as people were asking me what I was going to do once Afghanistan quietened down.
I am particularly proud of special quilts we make for those troops who are wounded and those who make the ultimate sacrifice. We have several Wounded Warrior Quilts on standby at the hospital in Kandahar to be provided to injured soldiers as they transit through to the military hospitals in Germany. These Wounded Warrior Quilts are uniquely Australian, featuring the flag or Southern Cross for example.
Do you remember the fellow in the hospital with the red, white and blue Hero Quilt from America that I spoke of earlier? He and his wife are now very good friends of mine. Once his wife made contact with me I sent him one of ours to road test and he uses it every day.
We also make Fallen Warrior Quilts – the first quilt was handed to the family of a Fallen Hero in July 2012. The families of the men who have died since then have also been offered quilts. These quilts are often made from blocks sent in from all over Australia which enables as many people to be included as possible and are quietly sent to the chaplain who is caring for the family concerned, or direct to the family if requested.
As of last week we have sent over 3900 quilts and over 5900 laundry bags to serving members in Afghanistan, Dubai, South Sudan, Egypt, Israel and elsewhere including whatever ship is deployed at the moment. I was so proud to serve when I wore the uniform but I am even more proud to serve our awesome men and women who serve today.
- Where can we find you? (FB, Instagram etc)
We are on Facebook – Aussie Hero Quilts (and Laundry Bags) and on Instagram as Aussieheroquilts. We also have a blog which can be found here http://aussieheroquilts.blogspot.com.au/. I write blog posts every Monday to Friday.
Happy Quilting; let's get some fabulously bright laundry bags made, shall we?