Crafting kings: Vietnam veterans built a blue-ribbon-winning life together

He’d worked on the blanket for months. Rod Hardin’s knitting needles clicked as he lounged beside the pool on vacation in Atlantic City, and little kids paused to marvel at the Santa Claus look-alike in a Hawaiian shirt, draped in threads of yarn. When autumn came, he continued his creation from a hospital bed set up on the first floor of his Germantown, Md., home.

By mid-November, it was finally done: A patchwork of vibrant colors, framed by stripes of sky and cobalt blue. A few days later, Rod could no longer sit up, and his husband, Nathan Jones, knew it was time to call hospice.

Nearly a year later, Nathan unfolds the blanket in the sunny room where he cared for his husband in his final days. “It was the last thing he worked on,” he says. “I knew I wanted to do something with it.”

The first time Rod won a blue ribbon at Maryland’s Montgomery County Fair, in 2010, it was Nathan who had secretly submitted Rod’s handmade blanket. After that, Rod submitted entries on his own every year. He had never mentioned anything about entering his final project at the fair. But seven months after he died, Nathan decided to do it anyway.

“It was the last thing I could do for him,” he says, “and another way for him to be remembered.”

Over the years, they had become crafting phenomena of the Montgomery County Fair. Nathan took up scrapbooking after they lost their beloved 16-year-old poodle; in 2001, he entered the competition and one of his books won the blue ribbon. More awards followed, for photography, baking and flawless roses. He became the first man to win the fair’s coveted Baker of the Year award in 2012.

Rod taught himself to knit and crochet after suffering a head injury in a mugging in 1995: Doctors told him to find an activity that would help focus his attention. Rod found the process deeply relaxing.

The two Vietnam veterans drew their share of second glances when they first made their mark in the local crafting scene. The fair’s…

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