This is Carolina: Patriotic partnership puts stars around veterans’ shoulders

TIC: Quilts of Valor Stars

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Thousands of stars that are destined to be part of an American flag become damaged in the embroidery process. It happens, but this company decided to find a better use for the unneeded fabrics.

Those stars were destined for the dumpster, but a patriotic partnership gives them an even greater purpose with the Quilts of Valor.

“I program the star in the dimension, the diameter and the width for the size of the star field," said Embroidery Solutions production manager Alain Marquez.

He gave WMBF News a tour of the factory, which is home to ten giant embroidery machines that produce at least 30,000 American flag star fields a week. Marquez oversees the operation in Kingstree, S.C.

“The flag might be simple just to look at it, but when it comes to the process of work it really takes a lot of time and a lot of people to finish up the work,” he said.

Dozens of workers checked the embroidery machines progress, double check it at sewing machines and triple check the end result’s perfection.

If the field of fifty stars, meant to be sold to a customer that will connect it to stripes to make the American flag, is not perfect, it’s a waste.

However, the company no longer dumps the discarded star fields in the dumpster.

“The stars that are perfect front and back, the hem is perfect, too, those will go to customers. We get one with a hole then that customer can’t use in the star field, so it will go to Quilts of Valor,” Embroidery Solutions secretary Eileen Campbell said.

The few she showed WMBF News will be headed to the Quilts of Valor chapter, known as the Myrtle Beach Shore Birds, in the Grand Strand.

“I’ve never had a garage. It’s been this way since basically day one. Since the beginning, because nine years ago it was just she and I. Just the two of us," Jim Wobbleton said inside his garage now called the ‘she shed’ by the ladies who fill it every Wednesday.

“We call this our Quilts of Valor shop," his wife, Joan, said.

The two head the Myrtle Beach Shore Birds Quilts of Valor chapter.

“Since 2010, our group has awarded over 3,000 quilts to veterans who served during a combat era,” Joan explained.

The Wobbleton’s garage is filled head to toe with shelves, stacked with rolls of patriotic fabric. Even more rolls on top, showcasing the red, white and blue. Quilting machines and tools are in the middle.

The ladies meet every Wednesday to work on quilt kits and design, which are then sent off to regional volunteer quilters, who send them back to be finished in the Wobbleton’s garage and awarded to the over 400 veterans waiting for a Quilt of Valor.

Every quilt is different, and almost all of them showcase a star pattern from fabrics donated by Embroidery Solutions. Veteran and quilter Kathleen Williams said the stars give quilters a unique ‘wow factor’ they like to get while creating each quilt. Each is truly stitched from the heart.

It’s important to note the donated star fields have never been part of a flag, and have never been flown.

Williams and her husband are both veterans who’ve received quilts in the past. She said it’s part of the healing process for a veteran.

The Wobbletons are planning to pass the head torch to Williams and her husband in August, but said they’ll still be helping out.

The non-profit foundation began in 2003 after founder Catherine Roberts’ son was deployed to Iraq. For the first six year, quilts were made and sent to the Middle East to be placed on stretchers for the wounded. Now, all are included who have served in any combat era.

The foundation said it’s awarded over 220,000 quilts since 2003. Locally, the Myrtle Beach Shore Birds have made and awarded over 3,000 quilts since it began in 2010. Over 400 veteran requests for quilts are waiting to be awarded.

The local chapter of Quilts of Valor said it made and awarded 636 quilts in 2017 and 766 quilts in 2018. It takes about 100 hours to make one quilt, Wobbleton said. Each quilt has an estimated value of up to $300.

Quilts are first cut and designed in the Wobbleton’s garage, then placed in a bag made out of Embroidery Solutions stars and called a ‘kit.’ The kits are sent to the ‘topper,’ a person who sews it all together to make the top of the quilts.

Most quilts awarded in the Myrtle Beach Shore Bird’s area are then sent back to the Wobbletons to be ‘longarmed,' or to another area longarmer.

However, the machines range from $10,000 to $50,000, so there aren’t many longarmers to choose from. The quilts top and back is added, then binded and then the quilts are ready to be awarded.

Quilts of Valor is a national organization with a state coordinator for each state. The Shore Birds chapter said currently there is a 10 to 12 month wait for a quilt to be awarded to a veteran.

Thank you veterans, for your service.

If you have a veteran you’d like to nominate for a quilt, click here to request a quilt of valor.

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