Quilts of Valor: A Photo Essay by Trudy Cleveland

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Taking a photography class at the local community college seemed like a logical way to improve my skills in taking pictures of my quilts. I am a professional longarmer, and I like to photograph my clients’ quilts before I return them. I quickly became hooked, particularly when I used my dad’s vintage Minolta 35mm camera during my second class in black-and-white photography.

I began to realize that photography and quilting have a lot in common. The more I learned about the elements of photography, the more confident I became about my quilting designs.

Our final assignment in the black-and-white photography class was to shoot and print images that spotlighted a specific community and told a story.

Quilts of Valor Photo Essay: I needed inspiration, and it came just in time.

I needed inspiration,
and it came just in time.

Later that week, I was on my way to deliver a quilt I had quilted for the Quilts of Valor® organization, which aims to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing quilts. I quilt the tops that Quilts of Valor® volunteers produce. It has been my way to pay it forward and to say “thank you for your service” to our service members.

Quilts of Valor Photo Essay: I had no idea what an emotional experience it would be.

I had no idea what an emotional experience it would be.

The idea struck me that this dedicated group of volunteers would be the ideal subject for my assignment. The coordinators of the North San Diego Quilts of Valor® allowed me to bring my 35mm camera to their meeting and even suggested I come to two ceremonies where they would be awarding quilts to veterans. I had no idea what an emotional experience it would be for me both as a photographer and a quilter.

Quilts of Valor Photo Essay: This experience touched me.

This experience touched me.

The first ceremony was at a nearby assisted living facility and was attended by the recipients, their families, and friends. The Quilts of Valor® representative recognized each of the four veterans with personalized details of their service, awards, and achievements.

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It was sobering to hear about their individual acts of heroism and courage. Family members asked if they could receive copies of the images I was taking. Many residents asked to see my vintage camera and recalled stories about their own. One of the recipients was a nurse during the Vietnam War. She was delighted to receive the patriotic quilt and proceeded to tell me about sewing projects she had completed when she was younger.

quilts-of-valor-photo-essay-awarding-the-quiltThe second ceremony I attended was at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial in San Diego to honor a 99-year-old World War II veteran. His family had planned the ceremony as a surprise, and many guests flew in from around the country.

It was obvious from all the images I took that the veterans felt greatly honored to be remembered for their sacrifices for our country. But what surprised me was how deeply this experience touched me. The reactions from the veterans and their families to the ceremony and the beautiful quilts were truly endearing.

Trudy Cleveland is a professional longarm quilter based in Southern California. This article appears in the July/August 2018 issue of Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting.

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