From old fashioned to in fashion

BPL Quiltmakers’ sewing strategies

• Pick a sewing machine that has both a drop-in bobbin and a speed control setting, which allows kids to sew more slowly even if they"floor” the pedal.

• The worst thing is to start with a machine that isn’t working well. If you already own a sewing machine, have it serviced, if necessary.

• It’s hard for a kid to maintain the 1/4-inch seam allowance. Be understanding but firm when a seam has to be ripped out.

• Matching edges is hard when putting together the quilt top. Let the child know in advance that even experts can find this difficult.

• Adults can learn to sew along with the child. Check out class lists at local fabric stores.

Short stuff: Spotlight

There was a mild uproar when Riverside School District 96, which serves Riverside and parts of Brookfield and North Riverside, dropped traditional Home Economics (cooking and sewing) at its middle school in favor of classes considered more relevant for today’s youth.

Coincidentally, the end of the Home Economics marked the beginning of the Brookfield Public Library’s Quiltmakers group. The formation of the group also coincides with the growing popularity of knitting, sewing and fashion designing among tweens and teens. Even sewing machine manufacturers have reported an upswing in sales during recent years—Singer, a major manufacturer of sewing machines, reports that sewing machines sales in the U.S. climbed from 1.5 million in 1999 to nearly 3 million in 2005.

The brainchild of youth librarian Becky Huebler, BPL Quiltmakers has met once a month for just over a year (once a week during the summer). The result has been three hand-sewn quilts, two of which were recently auctioned in a library fundraiser.

Learning to make crib quilts

Through this fall and winter, the group, which averages about 10 kids per meeting, aims to make 20 machine-sewn crib quilts that will be donated to several charities selected by the Salt Creek Quilters Guild. If the quiltmaker completes three quilts, however, she will be able to keep one for herself. But fourth-grader Julia Buffo isn’t sure she’ll hold onto one of her quilts."I might even decide not to keep one,” she says."It’s generous and nice to share what you’ve made.”

Primarily girls have joined the BPL Quiltmakers, but there’s nothing stopping boys from learning this skill (one boy and one father have participated, but they are taking a break during the machine-sewing steps). The kids range in age from 8 to 12, although the group is open to older kids too. The only prerequisite for those under 9 is the ability to hand sew a straight line—one of the most difficult tasks to master, says Huebler. Kids over 9 are taught to hand sew a straight line during the meetings.

Group members have learned how to sew both by hand and machine. They participate in all aspects of quilt making, including placing quilt batting, cutting fabric and using an iron."I was nervous about the ironing,” admits Huebler."But I was surprised at how fast parents were for it. I was also surprised by the fact that parents weren’t nervous about the sewing machines.”

Members are also expected to learn how to thread the machine’s needle, load the bobbin with thread and put the bobbin back into the machine.

Parents like having kids sew

Parents are quick to praise the program and Huebler."I’ve been surprised by the ease with which the girls dove into using the sewing machines,” says Anna Wilson, mom to fourth-grader Emma."As adults, we’re hesitant, but kids just go right into it.”

Next up for the BPL Quiltmakers is a scrappy quilt. This time the kids will select the fabrics, rather than relying on repeated patterns for each quilt block. As with any undertaking, finding the money to buy materials can be tough. To help cover costs, the group has received private donations and special pricing from a sewing supply store. Members are not charged to participate, nor do they need to supply their own sewing machines. The materials cost has totaled slightly more than $300. The lessons being learned and the pure enthusiasm and pride on these young faces show that this is an endeavor well worth the money.

Martha Carlson lives in Brookfield with her husband and their three library-loving children.

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