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Beginning in 2003, grassroots quiltmaking projects were founded in the United States in response to the deaths of American soldiers in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. The author conducted an oral history project involving the founders of three of these quiltmaking projects and other quiltmakers who were active within them in order to understand the meanings of making and giving quilts and the meanings of the quilts themselves.
Two primary sites of meaning were identified in the study: 1) the internal motivations that inspired quiltmakers to begin and continue participation in a project; and 2) the textual, symbolic, and personal messages invested in and inherent within the quilts. Participation has meaning as a therapeutic activity, as an expression of maternal identity, and as an expression of life purpose. The quilts have meanings as memorials that narrate a noble story of each fallen soldier that borrow from larger cultural narratives; they also are invested with meanings as physical symbols of the deceased or the caring quiltmakers. These meanings are infused in the quilts by the many hand-written signatures and inscriptions, the memorial labels attached to the quilts, the patriotic symbols included in the designs, and through the physical form and cultural understandings of quilts. The research revealed that these meanings combined to effectively deliver messages of comfort and care in spite of the social and geographical distance between quiltmakers and the military families.