Threading her way to retirement: Shelia Simpson reflects on Quilts of Valor

Published 9:00 am Saturday, April 22, 2023

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Since she was six years old, Shelia Simpson has been immersed in the world of fabrics and thread. She liked to watch her grandmother quilting and imagine herself doing it. When her mother left for work, she would pull open the old sewing machine and sew until the bobbin was empty. 

“I enjoy piecing, and I enjoy quilting. I do both,” Simpson said. “Some people only enjoy one either. They like to do the top or they like to quilt, but I like doing both of them.” 

Simpson will be retiring from running the Georgia-Alabama chapter of Quilts of Valor at the end of May. Simpson, from Luthersville, has worked with the organization for the past seven years. 

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“I’ll be 62 in May, so I’m going to retire,” Simpson said. “I’m gonna leave — I’m not gonna say forever — but I want to travel some.”

Before she found, Simpson worked for a sewing factory for 11 years. She then worked for Yamaha and traveled to Japan and France for work. Now that she is retiring, she plans to visit parts of the U.S. that she has never seen before.

Simpson found a gift in her ability to thread any sewing machine. She spent hours teaching herself to sew on a machine. That skill came in handy when she joined Quilts of Valor. 

She first joined the organization in Newnan, Georgia, and stayed there for five years. When her husband discovered a health emergency, he encouraged Simpson to get more involved with her sewing. He bought her first longarm quilting machine, and she soon got involved with 

With about nine sewers, the Quilts of Valor has given away over 900 quilts in the time that Simpson has been in West Point. 

“We have many, many quilts. We have 60 quilts available to award now,” Simpson said. 

Though she loves to do it, sewing quilts isn’t quick or easy.

Some quilt tops can be made in a day or a matter of days, depending on how elaborate it is. It takes two to three hours to quilt them. Personally making the quilts is a labor of love to the community’s veterans.

“I think we have given back to West Point and to the Alabama surrounding areas and have made some men know that they are loved and cared about, especially the ones from Vietnam,” Simpson said. 

It also hasn’t been easy securing the funds needed for the nonprofit. The Quilts of Valor accepts donations for quilt materials. The organization accepts cotton fabric and monetary donations. In the past, Joann Fabric distribution center and Walmart have donated material to the organization.

“It’s a nonprofit organization, so the women here put a lot of money to help these veterans with quilts,” Simpson said. “We buy batting and backing and fabric.”

It’s all been worth it in Simpson’s eyes. The hours of meticulous and painstaking work is Simpson’s favorite part. The difficulty came when Mel Tramell asked her to lead the Georgia-Alabama Quilts of Valor. A love of paperwork didn’t come as naturally to her as sewing.

Simpson said the organization will be in good hands after she leaves. Debra Alexander, a current member, will be taking over. Alexander already has plans for a quilting conference in Pacudah this September.

“She is going to be a go-getter more so than me,” Simpson said.

Simpson has made lasting connections with the community that enriched her work. She has been touched by those she met through Quilts of Valor.

“It does touch me, and I’m concerned about the new generation. They don’t understand these people fought for your freedom. And I have learned since I’ve been in Quilts of Valor how precious it really is,” Simpson said. “Because these men left all they had at home. Some of them went and volunteered and others were drafted, but they sacrificed a lot. And they’ve seen a lot.”