TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — With an eye on melding tradition with treasure, community members gathered Monday evening in the Cherokee County Community Building to learn how to sew a dish-drainer quilt.
The workshop was hosted by the OSU Extension Office and local Oklahoma Home and Community Education clubs. All materials and supplies, including the sewing machines, were available for the two-hour class.
While the item being made was called a "quilt," no quilting was done on site. Participants had the option of taking it home and quilting it.
Touted on www.maryjanesfarm.org as a "farmgirl solution to the mineral-encrusted, difficult-to-clean, rigid, old-school, dish-drainer tray," the dish-drainer quilt is placed under dish-drying racks. Depending on the material, they are quick-drying, can be made to match kitchen decor, and are machine washable.
"Every summer, the kids do a sewing camp and they really love it. We had so many people asking to learn to sew that we thought we'd offer the workshops," said Heather Winn, OSU family consumer science educator.
The first workshop, held before the holidays, focused on making stockings. Winn said the turnout for that one wasn't impressive, and she wondered if the programs should continue. But eight willing participants came to Monday's sewing class, and Winn and three OHCE members were on hand to assist.
The sewing machines for the class are the property of the Extension office. A portion of them were purchased with grant monies. Participants could have brought their own machine, but having the Extension ones set up saved time
and helped those who don't own a machine.
"This offers an opportunity to learn new technology or the different types of machines available," said Winn. "For the kids in the summer, if they have their own sewing machine, we ask they bring it so they learn to sew on that one."
Before the dish-drainer project was explained, Winn asked attendees if they had ever sewn before.
"Everybody raised their hands that they had sewn before, but there were some difficulties. With someone else's machine, it's different," said Winn, who grew up in 4-H clubs and learned to sew from her mother.
The class was open to beginners, but most participants seemed to have a handle on the processes once they became familiar with the machines and showed one another the techniques.
"I knew nothing about sewing. My mother-in-law would be proud of this. Jesse knew some; she had been to the 4-H sewing camp. It was fun. I think we'll come back," said Brandi Little, who made a dish-drainer quilt with her daughter, Jesse.
Winn and OHCE members had pre-cut the material with a rotary cutter so that step wouldn't take up class time. Attendees each received two pieces of 17- by 19-inch fabric with rounded corners and a piece of batting also that size. Three 3-1/2-inch strips were to be used for the outside ruffle. The ruffle parts were sewn together and that was sewn to one of the 17-by-19 fabric pieces, which had been notched to assist with making the ruffle even all the way around.
The fronts of the pieces were placed together with the batting on the bottom. All this was sewn together, leaving an opening to turn it right side out. Once it was flipped and right-side out, the opening could be hand-sewn. Throughout the process, the material and seams were pressed flat. Pressing helps to set and blend stitches to get nice, crisp seams, Winn said.
"It was great fun, and a cute idea - worth the time and effort to show up," said Linda Stark.
Stark is not a member of OHCE, but after the workshop, she was considering joining the organization: "It's something to do to make new friends and help with the 4-H clubs. I think it would be an enjoyable thing to do in the community."
Carla Wallace is the sister of the OSU Extension 4-H educator Carl Wallace, but she wasn't aware of all the different projects OHCE does. The sewing class was one of her first events, and she attended with her mother, Carolyn.
"It was very enjoyable to visit and sew and make new friends. I learned to make something that is useful, and I can teach someone else how to do it," said Wallace. "The ruffle was kind of tedious. I'm a perfectionist, so I was slow."
Wallace is thinking about joining OHCE to help the community.
The mission of the Oklahoma Home and Education organization is to educate its members to be "well-informed and able to handle change in their homes and communities," according to humansciences.okstate.edu/fcs/ohce.
Working with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and family consumer educators, OHCE helps identify family and community issues specific to the area, and follow through with projects developed from fact-based research.
The history of OHCE - under various names and affiliation - goes back to the late 1800s. Throughout the years, members promoted and taught first aid, preserving and canning foods, resourcefulness and, among other things, helped establish county health departments and community libraries.
Through monthly meetings, state conferences, and community outreach, modern clubs still engage in many of the those activities. Local OHCE groups installed a community library box at W.W. Hastings Hospital, regularly collect needed items for veterans and the School for the Blind, teach lessons on skin care and cancer, and share skills to teach others.
Currently there are about 62 members in Cherokee County OHCE clubs. Programs like the sewing class are a way for OHCE members to share skills, address community issues, and meet potential members.
Winn said a class such as this could have cost participants $50 or so. OHCE offered it free of charge, but did offer information about the group. A year's membership is $17.50. The main groups meetings and programs monthly. Some get together for a Leaders Lesson, which then is taken back to teach to the smaller groups.
Community sewing workshops are in the works for April, August and December. The sewing camp for 4-H-aged children is in July.
Those interested in Oklahoma Home and Community Education should contact the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County at 918-456-6163.