WASHINGTON – When Mary Jane Deppisch wanted to show her support for the troops, she took up needle and thread and started sewing.
The Baltimore resident is part of a growing online sewing circle that has women across the country stitching pillow cases and holiday stockings for frontline soldiers. Their handiwork has a more somber side, too — they are creating individual panels for quilts that will memorialize those Americans killed in combat.
“It’s very emotional for me,” said Deppisch of the memorial quilt panels. She has done panels for eight of the 18 Maryland soldiers killed in Iraq and is getting ready to do four more — for the four soldiers from the state who died in combat last week.
Before she does a panel, Deppisch often looks up the soldier’s picture on the Internet. The pictures “come to mind very clearly when you’re working,” she said. “Sometimes, it gets to you.”
Deppisch, 48, said she started quilting in 1989, after seeing an exhibition of quilts at White Marsh Mall. She is self-taught and works mostly on her own on a no-frills sewing machine.
Which is where the Internet comes in.
Their homey pastime notwithstanding, today’s quilters hook up via online forums and e-mail lists. And soon after the war in Iraq started, so did the posts from women with ideas for sewing projects to show support for the troops.
Deppisch was an easy sell. Besides having recently quit her part-time job, she is from a military family — her father, three brothers and husband have all served.
The first project that caught her attention was “Operation Pillowcase,” the brainchild of Sandi Carstensen of Clinton, Iowa. A pillowcase Carstensen made for her son-in-law in Iraq spawned an Internet group that, according to published reports, has now sent more than 2,000 cases and about 1,000 Christmas stockings to the troops overseas.
The pillowcases are popular because they give soldiers a “sense of home,” Deppisch said. She has sewn 62 so far, using colorful remnants she finds on sale at local fabric stores.
Then there was the post from Rochelle Baisch, 43, of American Falls, Idaho, looking for help with a quilt that she hopes will ultimately incorporate all the names of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Like Deppisch, Baisch is from a military family — her father, along with eight of his 10 brothers, was in the armed forces — and has been quilting for 10 years. She started the KIA Memorial Quilt in April, she said, because she felt the American death toll in the war was being downplayed.
“You never hear anything about the deaths,” she said. “There is a price we’re paying. We’re losing a lot of men and women over there, and that needed to be brought out a little bit.”
“This isn’t a political statement,” she said. “It’s not about whether we support the war or whether we support the president, it’s about supporting the troops.”
With close to 1,400 deaths to record, Baisch has 140 women around the country sewing panels for the quilt, with more joining all the time. Each panel is 10 inches square and includes the soldier’s name, rank, service branch, hometown and age.
Each quilter gets to choose the fabric for the panels she creates, and many are using stars-and-stripes patterns in red, white and blue.
Baisch said more than 900 panels have been finished and will soon be made into a series of quilts, each one a 36-panel square, that she hopes to be able to exhibit in public.
Deppisch said she will wait a week or two before doing the panels for the four most recent Maryland casualties, in case any of the men’s families would like to do them instead.
For her, the quilts are an expression of gratitude. Her own son, who recently graduated from college, had considered enlisting before he got a job with the federal government.
“If it weren’t for the volunteers,” she said, other young men and women “would have to go. This is the least I can do to show a little support for these fine soldiers.”
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