Garments were scrutinized, outfits evaluated, and decision making skills questioned Wednesday morning. The halls of Trinity Lutheran Church’s education wing were filled with 4-Hers of all ages dressed in an assortment of outfits from the simple to the simply elegant and everything in between. These participants in clothing construction, fiber arts and buymanship projects in the county’s 4-H clubs underwent judging of their projects, leading up to the moment they could take the stage at The Crest Theater in Great Bend later that night for the annual 4-H Fashion Revue, marking the beginning of Barton County’s fair activities.
Members of South Bend Jolly Workers and Great Bend City Slickers collaborated with decorating the theater for the annual event, decking the halls in a Winter Wonderland theme to echo the “Just Be Claus” theme at the Barton County Fair.
This year, while buymanship continues to experience strong participation, clothing construction is seeing a resurgence. It’s a matter of “teach them and they will come.”
Two years ago, the Barton County Extension office received a grant from the Golden Belt Community Foundation for the purchase of new sewing machines, Extension Agent Berny Unruh said.
“The purpose of the grant was to involve young people in a community project,” she said. “We set a goal to sew 100 pillowcases for Life Giving Center residents. Kids were excited about their creations.”
After the pillowcases, Unruh taught participants how to make simple bags for residents to keep personal items in. And now, with the grant fulfilled, the Extension is continuing to provide a creative outlet for 4-H members with Second Saturday Sewing.
As popularity of the program has grown, Unruh has enlisted parents and volunteers from an area quilt guild to help mentor the young sewers as the projects they’ve undertaken have grown in complexity. It’s encouraging for the volunteers to see the excitement and eagerness of the young sewers, and beneficial to the kids, who not only learn a new skill, but also form bonds with community members they may not necessarily get to know. The informal classes are open to boys and girls and participants range in age from 7 - 18 years.
Brianna Anschutz, a highschool student, has been sewing for five years and attends SSS.
“It’s great for younger kids who might not have a parent that sews,” she said. “They can learn how so they can do more advanced projects later.”
Young sewers wow with skill
Cheyenne Martinz and Liberty Marsh, both 11, have been attending SSS for the past year, and have learned the art of choosing fabrics, notions, and patterns to create items like swimsuit covers, bags for different purposes, potholders, aprons as they learned how to use the state-of-the-art machines. These skills came in handy when they made the leap to clothing construction.
Martinz, a member of TLC Twisters 4-H club, constructed a simple sleeveless dress from fabric she found in Salina, while Marsh, a member of South Bend Jolly Workers 4-H club, learned how to make simple alterations to her pattern for a hi-low sleeveless dress, with help from her mentor at the Saturday sewing sessions. Both girls received purple ribbons for their creations, which isn’t an easy task. The top prize in the ribbon system, purple ribbons are awarded when participants produce excellent work. Straight seams, finished edges, and no puckering allowed in other words.
Seventh grader Aubrey Snapp, member of Busy Buzzers 4-H club, has been competing in clothing construction for five years, and came to judging Wednesday at the Trinity Lutheran Church classrooms with two dresses. One, she made for herself to be worn for church and special occasions, and one for her little sister Emma, who requested the dress so she could take part in the fashion review happening Wednesday night.
Judges learned that Snapp had chosen a difficult pattern for Emma’s dress, one that had incomplete instructions. She had to improvise and decide how to complete the sleeves and zippered opening using the skills she’d accumulated over the past few years. She not only did a wonderful job rising to the challenge, she articulated her answers to their questions like one with true knowledge. In the end, Snapp took purple ribbons for both dresses.
Purple ribbons are the top prize in the Extension ribbon system. It signifies excellence and skillful execution of a project. Other ribbons include blue, red, and white.
Buymanship and fiber arts
For the past several years, clothing construction has receded in popularity in favor of buymanship, Donna Krug, county Extension agent, noted. While shopping is part of the project, it’s much more involved than a simple trip to the mall.
Participants plan outfits, thinking through the occasion, number of anticipated wears, and the expense of upkeep--like machine wash or dry clean only. The costs of each component of the outfit is accounted for, and judges offer feedback on the choices made and the look and fit of the outfits, the appropriateness for the occasion noted, and overall modeling ability of the wearer. The goal is to make well informed choices with an eye toward economy.
This year, participation by boys is up, something Krug and Unruh find encouraging. They’ve also seen the beginnings of boys participating more in the construction side of fashion projects.
Fiber arts, too, is one aspect of the skills and categories represented at the fashion revue. This year, knitting and crocheting are back on stage, with a twist. Alaina Straub appeared on stage with her dog, Walker, as he models a dog sweater she created for him.
Last week, Unruh brought the sewing machines to Extension’s state sewing camp. There were 36 kids, eight adults and seven counselors who spent days sewing up a storm. One counselor, a teen boy from Salina, has his mind set on a career in fashion design, with dreams of Paris in his future, she said.
“He was simply amazing,” she said. “He could really sew.”
The excitement of sewing is contagious, and Unruh left with ideas of how to continue to make it spread in the coming year. For years, sewers have heard that sewing is a dying art, but perhaps it was only a matter of having the tools and the teachers on hand to keep it alive, she said. Whatever, Unruh is looking forward to seeing continued growth in area 4-Hers skills and excitement.
Outfits will be on display at in Expo 2 at the Barton County Fair which starts next Wednesday, July 8, and runs through Sunday, July 12.