2013-08-08 / Front Page

Quiltmaker sews memories into Remembering Flags

Staff Writer

Helen Phillips began sewing quilts to help people with memory problems, and her hobby soon evolved into creating Remembering Flags for Gold Star families who have lost a loved one in combat. Helen Phillips began sewing quilts to help people with memory problems, and her hobby soon evolved into creating Remembering Flags for Gold Star families who have lost a loved one in combat. elen Phillips has been busier than ever this year, stitching more than

185 flag quilts for Gold Star families with loved ones killed or injured in combat.

However, unlike the red and white stripes with white stars on a field of blue, Phillips’ Remembering Flags display a collage of snapshots of fallen heroes and provide a glimpse into their lives.

“It is a comfort to so many people because they can see the photos of someone they have lost and … they feel connected,” Phillips said, adding that her hobby has grown at an unbelievable pace since she started making the flags in 2012.

“When I made a couple of flags, I just knew right away it was something special. I have made 185 flags since I started a year ago. That is 185 stories,” the Eatontown, Monmouth County, resident said.

Each story is unique and has its own memories, she said, recalling a flag she made for a mother who happened to be a Gold Star and a Blue Star parent, whose youngest son was killed in combat while another son is serving a third tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Phillips, who is a retired teacher, said this Remembering Flag was designed as a memento for the surviving son as he serves another tour.

“He can roll that up and on his next tour he can have something comforting with him and share it with other people,” Phillips said.

The stories are remembered as Phillips shares each flag and its story on her Facebook page, reposting the flag on the anniversary and birthday of each fallen hero.

Through her page, Phillips has reached more than 10,000 people.

However, for Phillips, it is not about the numbers; it is about the fact that so many people are finding the page.

“It comforts all those Gold Star [parents] that someone is remembering them and, also through networking, that there are more people remembering them.”

Phillips said she often receives photos or letters from family members thanking her for the flags.

One photo from a Gold Star wife showed the woman’s 2-year-old son kissing the image of his father on the flag.

“I sent the little boy a pillow with the collage so he has something to hold on to and hug,” Phillips said.

Besides the flags, Phillips also creates pillows, bags and Remembering Quilts, a project she began more than two years ago. That project helped her learn how to create the quilts and flags.

Phillips, herself a Blue Star mother with a son serving in the Navy, was traveling back and forth from Eatontown to the state of Washington every month to baby-sit her grandchildren.

In need of a hobby to keep her busy on the long flights and the weeks she was spending away from home, Phillips began to do some research.

While viewing a quilt display at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, she noticed some of the quilts had photos, which sparked the idea to create quilts for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“My mom had dementia and I would always put the names on her photos. I thought I could do that on fabric and learn how to make a basic quilt, because I could sew but I had never quilted,” she said.

Phillips read books and reached out to quilters and learned how to make a basic quilt and how to apply photos to fabric.

She experimented with a quilt for her 97-year-old aunt before focusing on making quilts for people with memory problems and reaching out to veterans groups on Facebook.

The Remembering Flags effort began with a quilt for a mother who lost her son while he was serving in the military, she said.

“She wanted a garden flag because she lived in Philadelphia and could not afford to visit his gravesite in Texas,” Phillips said.

After two years of sewing quilts and flags, Phillips came up with the name Remembering Quilts and incorporated as a business.

Despite the overwhelming number of flag requests she receives and the expense of creating them, Phillips said she would never charge the families of military personnel who have been killed in combat.

“It would take away the whole meaning with the families if I ever charged for the initial flag. That is not even an option for me,” she said. “It is something they enjoy so much, with sharing their story and seeing the actual collage developed. I think I have had more people cry happy tears than anyone else.”

To learn more about Remembering Quilts, visit www.rememberingquilts.com.

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