FRANKSTON - Doris Stibbins, of Frankston, enjoys quilting, but her handiwork is taking on new significance these days as a way to give back to the United States military.
The cozy works of art aren’t exactly landing in the hands of faraway service members, but rather with their offspring, as a gesture of support and encouragement.
Ms. Stibbins is a member of Sewing Sisters of Texas, a Christian group devoted to helping the California-based nonprofit Seven Stars Foundation, Inc. provide a quilt to grieving children of active, wounded and fallen service members.
“We just want to support them,” Ms. Stibbins said. “We enjoy doing it.”
SEWING FOR SUPPORT
Most of the sewing “sisters” have close relatives in the military and use their time together not only to create beautiful blankets, but also to bond over batting.
There are about a dozen women in all, ranging in age from 33 to 79.
“This group, we really are like sisters,” Ms. Stibbins said. “If I call someone and say, ‘I need you in five minutes,’ they are there. We take care of each other.”
All this camaraderie started about roughly three years ago after a chance meeting in Montana between a vacationing Jackie Smith, formerly of Frankston, and a California mom affiliated with Seven Stars Foundation, created in honor of seven crew members killed in 2007 when their U.S. Marine helicopter was shot down in Iraq.
The foundation tries to send military children to a special camp, allowing them to connect with youngsters in similar circumstances.
Apparently touched by the nonprofit’s core mission, the vacationing Ms. Smith asked a few close friends back home to join her in supporting the efforts.
Would they, could they, make a few quilts for the children attending camp?
“We had made a few quilts before that,” Ms. Stibbins said. “How could we say no? They needed 40 quilts and we said we could do it.”
The clock was ticking - and fast.
Three women set to work on their new mission, rounding up a few more friends and as many supplies as they could pull together.
“Our motto is, ‘With God all things are possible,’” said Linda Spates of Brushy Creek, referring to scriptures from the book of Matthew. “These were for kids who were just wanting to have a good time.”
SCRAMBLING FOR THE SERVICE
No one was truly surprised when a few more ladies pitched into to help.
“We did an assembly line,” Ms. Stibbins said. “That first year we did 43 quilts.”
A few months later, the women received a request from the organization for more of their handiwork - but this time, Seven Stars needed 200.
“We said we would do what we could,” Stibbins said. “We said we would try.”
To make their new goal, the quilters needed to round up even more hands and supplies.
They started hitting garage sales and offering free haul away of unwanted, donated clothing, such as old jeans and scraps of fabric.
As the mountain of supplies and support grew, it became obvious they needed some place to store the materials and a larger place to work as a group.
Frankston artist Susan Beard offered temporary use of her private downtown studio so the quilters could spread out and speed up the process.
“They needed some space,” the artist said. “My husband and I dabble in real estate and this place came up a few years ago … it was once a beauty shop and we renovated it.”
The studio-turned-sewing factory brought welcome relief to a group of women determined to make a difference.
The ladies assembled about 112 quilts.
Efforts are underway to prepare for next year’s campers and move to a larger space.
For now, the group meets Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 107 W. Main St.
NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED
Not everyone in the group is an expert with a sewing machine - each person seems to have a specialty.
Barbara Wakeham, of Frankston, helps design and pick out the fabrics, carefully combing through totes in search of the right combination.
Jo Bain takes care of pinning and ripping out seams.
Lacey Strother, 33, of Brushy Creek, donates the muscle.
“I’m the hauler,” Ms. Strother said with a grin, explaining she helps lug totes of fabric around the group’s rented storage unit and performs other support roles.
New member Kristi Clark said she learned about the group from her hairdresser, who apparently makes house calls.
“I was making a quilt and she saw it,” she said, adding she jumped at the opportunity to join the group and work alongside more experienced artisans, such as retirees Georgia Matthews and Joy Lewis, who both learned to sew as children.
“I more or less taught myself,” Ms. Matthews said, describing her role in the group as largely washing, ironing and cutting the fabric. “I learned from my grandmother; my mother was a non-sewer.”
Ms. Lewis learned on old treadle machine, she said. “I made all my school clothes.”
There are several other groups around the country that sew for Seven Stars, but Frankston’s Sewing Sisters said they consistently receive high marks for craftsmanship.
Coincidently, members credit machine repairman Leland Turner with helping keep the wheels of their operation turning.
“Supporting each other is what it’s all about,” Ms. Strother said.
To learn more about the sewing group or donate to their efforts, contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message them through the group’s Facebook page.