They call themselves “sewing sisters” because of the love what they do, and sharing their own sewing knowledge and skills.
The women of the American Sewing Guild booth in the Arts and Crafts building have been using their space at the Manatee County Fair to teach children to sew for nine years.
Sewing machines line the booth’s tables, enabling multiple children to try their hand at sewing and take home their newest creations.
Last year, the booth helped 400 children operate a sewing machine, said Sarasota/Gulf Coast chapter president Paulette Braga. So far this year, more than 270 children have stopped by. She said those who stop are inquisitive.
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“They’re pretty fascinated by the taking two pieces of material and they stick together,” Braga said. “They love to create something. ... They’re very proud of what they do.”
The average age of children who step up to learn the initial steps is about 5 years old, Braga said, but she has seen children as young as 3 try — and even adults who have never learned to sew.
“We love to share our love of sewing with (the children) and seeing the smiles after using the machine for the first time,” said Kathy Pell, chairperson for the group’s booth at the fair.
“I think the hardest part of all the sewing is picking out the fabric they want to use,” Braga said.
It’s a lost art among children, and Braga said schools are partially to blame.
“I think the disconnection comes from schools. They don’t have life-learning events in schools anymore,” Braga said noting that she and her daughters learned to sew, balance a checkbook and cook while in school. “With both parents working today, it’s so difficult to find time (to teach).”
Club members who volunteer their time at the booth focus mostly on simple, quick items to teach the children who stop by. The activities only take about five minutes, but the women said they hope the short experience with a sewing machine inspires children to pick it up in the long term. The short time of the lesson keeps their attention, and the activity isn’t complicated.
Those who stopped by the booth could create key chain holders or tissue packet covers.
What keeps the members of the guild coming back are the success stories, like one they heard earlier this week.
A woman stopped by their booth to tell them her 10-year-old granddaughter has learned to sew after starting with a project at their booth two years ago, Braga said.
“When you hear success stories like that, it warms our hearts,” Braga said.
Thursday night, an old pro stepped up to their table to carry on a now three-year tradition.
Nicolette Jessup, 11, has made tissue holders at the American Sewing Guild’s booth for the last three years. While she started learning to sew at an early age from her mom — who also set up shop in the Arts and Crafts building — Jessup said what she did in the fair booth made her want to sew more often.
“It’s something that’s fun for me to do while I’m at the fair and it’s free and it’s enjoyable,” Jessup said. “I thought, wow, this is something I can actually learn how to do that is free and that is usable.”
Thursday night, she sat behind a sewing machine and started to stitch with confidence. Jessup remembers the steps of constructing the tissue holders from year to year.
Now equipped with her own sewing machine, Jessup has created sleeping bags and pillows for dolls at home.
Outside of their booth at the fair, the Sarasota/Gulf Coast chapter of the American Sewing Guild also holds a 4-H sewing camp in the summer, along with completing charity work throughout the year. Braga said the chapter is looking into ways to offer sewing classes for children in the future.