For hundreds of years, quilts have been used not only to keep people warm, but as a way to create a work of art that can be given to someone as a gift.

Now, a group of women in the Alexandria area are creating quilts as a way to honor area veterans.

“It’s like you wrap them in a warm hug,” said Vanessa Bruggeman, a member of Honor Quilts of West Central Minnesota. “You get so much satisfaction out of it.”

The group meets once a month at Community Vacuum and Sewing Center in Alexandria to create quilts that are then given to veterans as a way to show appreciation for their service.

Currently, one of the areas the group is focusing on is honoring Vietnam veterans, who because of the political climate and protests at the time didn’t want to be recognized when they returned, said Sandy Spartz. In fact, soldiers returning from Vietnam would often split up and dress in civilian clothes to avoid being singled out by protesters, Bruggeman added.

“They were vastly underappreciated for their sacrifice,” said Spartz, who is also a member of the quilter’s group.

Recently, the group presented about 30 quilts to veterans of the Vietnam War at the Alexandria VFW. Typically, the quilt is wrapped around the recipient in what is known as the “quilter’s embrace.”

“I have not been at one yet where the veteran hasn’t cried,” Bruggeman said.

Although the group has given quilts to veterans outside the area, they are now trying to keep it more local.

“Let’s recognize the people who live here,” Bruggeman said.

Both Bruggeman and Spartz emphasized that they can always use more volunteers. And although the group is currently all women, there is no reason why men can’t also be involved. Volunteers don’t even need to know how to sew, as the work includes other activities such as ironing and putting together quilting kits.

For the final sewing of a pattern over the quilt, the group relies on volunteers who have long arm quilting machines.

Anyone who wants to work on a quilt on their own is encouraged to stop in and pick up a kit, which includes squares of material and a pattern.

“All of a sudden, a quilt will just show up done,” Bruggeman said.

Typically, six to eight people work on each quilt, which can take up to 40 hours to complete. The binding around the edge is always hand sewn.

The group is also in need of nominations for quilt recipients. To qualify, a person has to be either a veteran or in active service, has to have been “touched by war,” and has not received a quilt in the past.

To purchase materials, such as backing, batting and labels, the group relies on donations.

Anyone who wishes to be a part of the group is encouraged to stop in at Community Vacuum and Sewing Center on the first Thursday of each month. The group typically gets together in the morning and works into the afternoon.

For more information, call Georgia Thesing at 320-491-2332 or Sandy Spartz at 320-491-3103.