School may be out, but Extension teaches four youth practical lessons during its ‘Staycation’

Under the guiding eye of Rae Ann O’Neill (right), 4-H youth development educator at the Huntington County Purdue Extension, Rosemary Burnard carefully sews the seam on the “burrito” pillowcase she is making Monday, Oct. 16, during the Extension’s Fall Break “Staycation” workshop at iAB Heritage Hall. Other classes held during the week out of school included clothing transformation, bicycle fun and clogging lessons.
Under the guiding eye of Rae Ann O’Neill (right), 4-H youth development educator at the Huntington County Purdue Extension, Rosemary Burnard carefully sews the seam on the “burrito” pillowcase she is making Monday, Oct. 16, during the Extension’s Fall Break “Staycation” workshop at iAB Heritage Hall. Other classes held during the week out of school included clothing transformation, bicycle fun and clogging lessons. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Oct. 19, 2017.

When four youngsters head back to school on Monday after getting a week off for fall break, they will have learned a new skill that will hopefully serve them the rest of their lives.

Rosemary Burnard, Phoebe Landrum, Brock Fippen and Brianna Elston spent their vacation taking a “Staycation” at the Huntington County Fairgrounds, learning how to sew a pillowcase. For nearly all of the kids, it was the first time they had put their hands on a sewing machine.

Members of Huntington County Purdue Extension led the class Monday, Oct. 16, one of four days during fall break in which youth in grades 3 to 12 were welcome to participate in a different activity each day.

The four sewing class pupils first learned how to maneuver their sewing machines and get a feel for the foot pedal speed control by “sewing” along the lines of coloring book pictures, trying to get their machine’s needle to pierce the black lines without using thread.

Next, they learned how to properly thread the sewing machine needle, then insert the metal bobbin. Their challenge was to sew a straight line on practice cloth in preparation for making their pillowcase.

Rae Ann O’Neill, 4-H youth development educator, says the basics of sewing is a must-have skill for every child. She can’t stress it enough.

“Even if they don’t ever make any of their own garments, learning how to repair their clothes is so important,” she explains.

“I’ve made every curtain in my house, plus I make a lot of my own clothes. But even if they don’t go to those kinds of lengths, just learning to do some basic sewing so they can repair their own clothing is important.

“A lot of the clothes that we purchase, they’re not constructed well, and so buttons fall off, seams rip and to be able to know how to at least repair your clothing is important.”

After they finished getting to know their sewing machine and running some practice stitches, the kids got down to work. They chose their fabric — a colorful pillowcase body and a tone-on-tone solid color fabric for the band.

A pillowcase makes for a great first project, O’Neill says.

“They’re all straight seams, and they can be done in a short amount of time,” she says. “And a pillowcase is something that everybody can use. …

“The goal is for them to have an easy, successful project — something that’s not frustrating — because we want them to have a positive experience right from the first time.”

The pattern used is a rolled or “burrito” technique, in which the fabric is rolled up and one seam sews together three pieces of fabric. The kids then pulled the inside of the “burrito” out, revealing a pillowcase unit without any raw or raveled edges on either side of the opening band. French seams finish the project.

Rosemary, 8, the daughter of Jessica and Nate Burnard, was intent on making sure her seams were straight on the pillowcase she was sewing. It was her first time ever to use a sewing machine, but not her first time at sewing-type crafts.

“I have used a weaving loom, and I might have sewn when I was very little, but I’m not quite certain,” she said. “This is fine. My mom signed me up for it.”

Brock, 11, was the only boy to sign up for the class, but he was undaunted in learning everything he could about the machine in front of him. He was impressed to find out that most of the world’s designers of women clothing are men, at nearly 60 percent according to businessof fashion.com.

“I’m trying to do some new things,” he says. “Mostly my mom made me.”

Brock plans to sew some leather gloves for himself and maybe even a leather jacket when he gets good enough.

His mom, Becky Arnett, program assistant at the Purdue Extension, was also helping teach the kids in the class, moving from pupil to pupil to give them tips, advice and encouragement. She says she wants Brock to get a proper education on how to do it right.

“I hope he learns to sew, because he wants to sew at home, but I won’t let him,” she says. “I want him to make sure that he knows what he’s doing first.”

Phoebe, 11, the daughter of Scott and Holly Landrum, was excited about learning how to use the machine to repair her clothes when they need it. She also wants to make her own dresses.

“I usually just do it by hand, if I really want to,” she says. “I think it’s amazing because when I usually do it by hand it’s all messy and sloppy, and I can’t really get it to go straight.

“But then, when I use the sewing machine, I get it to go straight. But sometimes it curves on me, which is OK —  at least it’s not all over the place.”

O’Neill says she hopes those who took the “Staycation” class will want to continue to improve their skills, and take up some sewing projects in the county’s 4-H program. The 4-H Fashion Revue is one of the most popular events at the annual Huntington County 4-H Fair, in which club members model the fashions they have sewn in competition.

“Last year we had a workshop for any of the kids that were in the 4-H sewing that wanted to come and work with volunteers to help them with their projects,” she says, adding that the class is usually held in February.

But it’s not just the kids who are interested in taking up the joys of sewing, O’Neill says.

“I was surprised — when we advertised this (class) we probably had more adults who called us and wanted to know if they could take the class than the kids,” she says. “So we will probably be offering a class for adults.”

She also teaches sewing to a group of Hispanic women, which has been meeting once per month since last winter.

Directions on how to sew a rolled or “burrito” pillowcase can be found online at www.allpeoplequilt.com/millionpillowcases/freepatterns/index.html.