Susan Hoffman

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Joey's Quilt I never met Joey, it wasn't until he died that I even knew about him. He was a soldier serving in Afghanistan when he died while saving his fellow soldiers. Making his quilt was more than stitching together fabric, it brought out an awareness in me. A deeper understanding of the sacrifices that have been made and the heartbreak endured by many so that we can be free. His quilt touched me like no other. I bought my Handi Quilter about 4 years ago. But, I had my eye on it long before I could afford one. I remember the first time I saw one. Doug (my wonderful husband) and I had taken my old Phaff in to be repaired at a local shop and there is was. I couldn't take my eyes off it. Oh the things I could do with it! Doug just kind of looked at me and said “I know,..... someday you'll have one.” With 2 kids in collage it was going to be awhile. It came as an anniversary gift from my husband after 31 years of marriage. You got to love a man than understands a woman's need to quilt! I love to sew! It's my drug of choice. Put me in front of a sewing machine and the endorphins flow. I love mine! It really is everything a home quilter could want. Soon I was making baby quilts for co-workers. Each baby gets a special quilt and everyone insists on seeing whatever new creation I come up with. One of my co-worker had a son graduating from High School and wanted a unique gift. Young Mike had been a hockey player and she asked if I could take some of his jerseys and make a quilt. I did and she loved it. Soon I was being asked to make other “memory quilts”. Then one day a co-worker's former son-in-law was killed in Afghanistan. As the news traveled throughout our unit ( I'm a nurse working in Labor and Delivery) it was apparent that Joey and his family had touched many lives in our community. He was a life long friend to the daughter of one co-worker, he attended the same church as several others, his dad was volunteer on the same fire department as someones father, ( Having just retired from a volunteer fire department as a paramedic I can tell you there is a real bond there almost a military like bond) and another co-worker's son was the family's bereavement officer. Everyone that knew him talked about what a nice kid he was and how devastated he family is. So sad. Several months after Joey died his former mother-in-law, Theresa asked me if I could make a quilt for Joey's mom, Teri. Theresa and Teri are still very close along with Theresa daughter, Joey's ex-wife. I said yes but, I wanted to meet Teri and get to know a little about Joey before I started. We set up a meeting and Teri brought me a basket full of Joey's clothes. Everything was in there! T-shirts, pants, socks, even boxer shorts. My heart broke for Teri. She was such a sweet lady. I don't know how she copes with such grace and composure. She kept stroking his clothes and saying she didn't know what to do with them. What do you say to a mother that has lost a child and the only thing left of him is a basket of clothes? Now basically I'm a sane well adjusted person but, not when it comes to fabric. I'm attracted to 100% cotton like a bee is to honey. I don't have a stash I have a bunker full of fabric. I sleep better at night knowing that in my basement is enough fabric to blanket Michigan. Only my most devoted friends will walk into a quilt shop with me because they know it will be hours before they see the light of day. Joey's quilt was going to be especially challenging because I wanted to use as much of “his” stuff as I could but still pay tribute to him. Not even the finest cotton would be as precious as one of his shirts. Like many young guys his wardrobe mostly T-shirts in beige, white, tan, black, and gray. Not very exciting colors. First things first, Joey was a patriot who died in the service of his country, that story definitely needed to be told. He died trying to disarm an IED. The front of the quilt needed to pay tribute to his life in the army and his death. The blocks are fronts of T-shirts he wore while in the service. The red, white, blue, black and eagles body are fabric from my bunker. Everything else is Joey's. In the upper left were the stars would normally go I had to do something different. The beige centers are actually a T-shirt I cut up. It was from his graduation at boot camp. Apparently all the graduates sign each others T-shirt, wishing them well. I cut the shirt up carefully and in the center of each block is a personal message to Joey. The plaid borders are his boxers. Joey had lots of boxers and they are incorporated throughout the quilt! The Eagle is my favorite block. The body was a piece of my fabric but the head, feet, and tail are Joey's T-shirts. The picture doesn't show it well but these are layers of different T-shirts to give color an definition to the tail and face. The bright blue block is from a memorial fund raiser done in Joey's name. On it is his full name, classification, date of birth and date of death. The eagle has a small teardrop shaped crystal in his eye. The back of the quilt is a mosaic of all the t-shirts and boxers I could fit in and Teri loves it! The entire quilt took me almost 6 months to do. I had no pattern only an idea. The only parameters where it had to pay tribute to Joey's life and death, it had to include as much of “his” fabric as possible and it had to give Teri comfort. I often had to walk away from the sadness and go do a fun quilt. At times I was stumped on how to work in another block or piece of fabric. I worked on it on his birthday and the next day which was Mother's day. All I could think of was Teri and the pain and sadness she must be going through that week-end. I didn't play golf on Memorial Day I put this quilt on my Handiquilter and promised my self I would finish it that week-end. I thought of all the men and women that died for the sake of freedom. I cried like hell for Joey and his family. More than anything else I wanted Teri to have this before the 1st anniversary of Joey's death. Finally it was done! Now to give it to Teri. Theresa and I both felt we wanted to do it in a private setting. Theresa invited Teri out to dinner and under the pretext of forgetting something at the hospital was going to stop by to pick it up. I was waiting in an unoccupied patient room with the quilt spread out, it would be the first thing Teri saw when she walked in the room. Of course the entire staff was in on it. I even had a back up scrub nurse standing by so I could stay with Teri. I'll never forget the look on Teri's face. When she walked in the room the first thing she noticed was me and a look of confusion came over her face. Then she saw it and stopped half way across the room. She couldn't move, just stood there stunned and started to cry. Her only words were “Oh my god, Joey's quilt” She couldn't move I had to take her by the hand and lead her the rest of the way into the room, her knees buckled a little and thought she might actually fall. By this time there wasn't a dry eye in the room. I couldn't tell you how long she stood there just stroking the top of the quilt. When she could finally did speak she began to point at each block and tell a story about Joey. Funny stories and sad ones. We all laughed and cried. Over and over she kept saying I never expected anything like this. We quickly turned it over and showed her the back. Like the front every block had a story. A remembrance of Joey when he was alive and carefree. She never stopped stroking the quilt. I remember her saying that she couldn't find the words to thank me. I told her I couldn't find the words to thank her for her sacrifice and that I hoped and prayed that this quilt could give her comfort. We hugged and cried some more. I lamented that it was one of the hottest days so far this summer and she wouldn't be able to use it for awhile. She laughed and said she was going to go home and turn the air conditioning down low. It wasn't the prettiest quilt I've ever made nor the most artistic. The colors were mostly drab and fabric not the top of the line cotton I like to use. It was the most important quilt I've ever made and there is not a doubt in my mind it is the most loved quilt I'll ever make. I watched her and Theresa walk down the hall and out of the hospital. Teri clutching the quilt to her almost like a new mom with her baby. All that is left of a son, a hero, a soldier. She was on her way home to sit with Joey.

I own the following HQ machine: HQ Sixteen