PLYMOUTH, Wis. — As quilts go, they're fairly simple. No Celtic knot, double wedding ring or mariner's compass patterns, no months-long effort to make intricate appliques.

Which is precisely the point. These quilts are going to the desert.

They're not designed to keep anyone warm on a winter night; they're designed for rolling up into a small bundle to stuff into a Marine's sea bag or a soldier's duffel.

So far, more than 1,600 of the camouflage quilts have been made by Wisconsin volunteers through the Camo Quilt Project and given to service members serving in southwest Asia. The size of an Army cot, the quilts can be folded in thirds, rolled and secured with four attached straps.

Though the military issues sleeping bags, many troops quickly find out they're too hot to sleep in during the warm months in Iraq or Afghanistan when temperatures can quickly reach triple digits.

The quilts have been used as pads, pillows and blankets, and for cushioning bumpy rides on military transports. Some have been draped across metal baking in the hot sun so arms weren't burned.

It started in 2006, when Sgt. 1st Class Todd Richter asked his mother-in-law to make him a thin quilt he could use to make his cot a little more comfy when his Wisconsin Army National Guard unit mobilized to Camp Shelby, Miss., for training and overseas deployment.

"I only intended to make one," said Linda Wieck. "Until Todd got down to Camp Shelby and 40 guys wanted them."

Forty guys turned into 400, and then 1,000, and Wieck still is making the quilts her son-in-law helped her design.

A quilter for four decades, her initial instinct was to make something fancy. But Richter wanted something simple.

They compromised: She made something simple and embroidered his name on it.

"I had an idea of what the next year on the road was going to be like," Richter said in an e-mail interview from Iraq, where he's serving with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery. "So I asked Linda to make a quilt that was durable and portable. ... These quilts are very versatile and compact and go anywhere with you."

With donations, Wieck buys Marine, Army and Air Force camouflage fabric, quilt batting and thread. Through the Sheboygan County (Wis.) Quilters Guild, she asked some of her quilting buddies for help. Others belong to church groups that heard about the project, and some volunteers are people who like to sew.

On a recent evening at donated office space in Plymouth, Wis., heads were bent over camouflage fabric as the steady hum of sewing machines stitching tan and green thread filled the small room.

One volunteer pinned batting and fabric together, another ironed thin pieces for ties. In another room, volunteers cut fabric and batting and packed finished quilts.

On this day, 40 Air Force quilts were heading out the door; the week before, 40 Army quilts were sent.

Wieck's husband, DuWayne, and Bob Kuhn, whose son served in the Marines, loaded a large roll of fabric on a pole attached to a wall and began measuring enough material for 13 quilts. Then they used a fabric saw to cut through 36 layers at once.

"If I'd have known it would only take a tool to get men involved, I would've done this a long time ago," Linda Wieck said as she watched her husband and Kuhn work.

The Camo Quilt Project has seven sewing machines of varying ages. Some volunteers bring their own.

The volunteers work from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. On this evening, 11 volunteers showed up. Most have family members in the military.

Janet Kraus of Elkhart Lake, Wis., has come once a week since December, and because she's good at it, she usually quilts — using a Janome sewing machine to sew zigzag stitches. Her Marine grandson is deploying overseas in September.

"When I think, 'Should I come here?' I think I've at least got a comfortable bed. This is the least I can do," Kraus said.

Army quilts cost $15 to make, while Air Force and Marine quilts are $20 each because the material for the camouflage pattern worn by members of those branches is more expensive. Each quilt includes a card saying: "As a token of our appreciation for your service to our country, the Camo Quilt Project volunteers of Plymouth, WI, present you with this quilt. We pray for your safe return."

Each quilt takes three to four hours to make. There's not enough money to send the quilts overseas, so it's up to the recipient to see that he or she gets the quilt. Often what happens is units pick them up before they deploy or individuals pay for the postage. Wieck estimates that three-quarters of the quilts have gone to Wisconsin National Guard members.

Since Wieck's initial blanket, she has taught one-day camouflage quilt workshops in Watertown, Sun Prairie, Princeton and Mayville, Wis., and she supplies kits to volunteers in other communities. American Legion Post 387 in Plymouth manages donations.

Mitch Wallner of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., doesn't sew, but he does a lot of fabric rolling and delivering. His brother Matt Wallner serves in the 440th Air Force Reserve and had ordered 40 quilts, which Wallner was preparing to drop off.

"It's one of those things that lets people know back home we're still thinking of them," Mitch Wallner said.


Workshop: A three-day camo quilt workshop is scheduled for Aug. 21 to 23 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Sheboygan Falls, Wis. Call Pastor Mark Janzen at (920) 889-8986.

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Donations: Send to Franklin Legion Post 387, c/o Steven Bender, N7417 Bittersweet Road, Plymouth, WI 53073