So Much More Than Sewing

The Little Ladies Sewing Circle in Oklahoma reaches across generations for skills-sharing and mission.

So Much More Than Sewing
Teaching the Little Ladies Sewing Circle to sew.

“For years, we wanted girls to be part of our United Methodist Women,” said Sue Schmidt, longtime member and former president of her local United Methodist Women in Enid, a city of 55,000 in northern Oklahoma.

“We knew having girls in our unit would be good for the girls, good for us individually and good for our United Methodist Women. We couldn’t find a way to include them, but we kept trying.”

And in 2003 they found a way.

The result: Little Ladies Sewing Circle, a circle in which United Methodist Women members and girls in grades 3 through 6 team up and make items for a United Methodist Women mission program.

Schmidt recalls when the idea for the new circle surfaced one summer day in 2002. She and several members of United Methodist Women’s newly organized “Quilting for Mission” project were working at the church. The children’s coordinator came in and asked if there might be a way children could help with the project when they were out of school.

“We explored possibilities, and found ways young girls could help,” Schmidt said. The next summer they invited girls to help, and they accepted.

Developing skills and partnership

The women showed the girls what to do and how to do it. The girls did good work and had fun—so much fun that when the summer was over, they asked if we could develop some sewing activities to do during the school year.

The United Methodist Women asked Schmidt to design a mission project for girls. They knew she could do the job. She loved children, loved to sew and loved mission. She was creative, resourceful and worked well with all ages. And she had taught home economics for years.

Schmidt accepted and invited Janet Bennett, another United Methodist Women leader with similar values and skills, to help her. Across the years she has added Jane Ann Niles, Vicky Brown and Lydia Wideman.

Schmidt and her team, in consultation with their United Methodist Women, developed general guidelines for the Little Ladies Sewing Circle, including being a safe space for girls in grades 3 through 6 to gather for fellowship and learning a new skill while also following the United Methodist Women Purpose: to be a community of women whose purpose is to know God and to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ; to develop a creative, supportive fellowship; and to expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the church.

The circle is not only for girls who attend First United Methodist in Enid but also for girls from other churches as well as girls who don’t go to church.

“All that matters to us is that the girls want to learn to sew, follow our instructions, take their work seriously and be good to one another,” said Schmidt.

Being part of the circle and sewing projects is cost-free for the young women.

“Even the material the girls use is provided for them. People in the church and community have not only given us plenty of fabric and other supplies for the girls to work with, they give us sewing machines and other equipment that we need!”

The circle meets the fourth Wednesday evening of each month from 6 until 7:30. Usually about a dozen girls come, which allows Schmidt and the other leaders to give individual attention.

“We teach the fundamentals of sewing,” says Schmidt. “When they make mistakes, we teach them it’s not the end of the world and show them how to correct what went wrong and patiently start all over, if that’s what it takes to make something they are proud of.”

Many of the girls do excellent work. Some have discovered they love to sew, and sewing has become a hobby they expect to enjoy always. Several have won top awards in county and state fairs and other competitive events. One recently won a sewing machine.

The girls keep some of what they make and give some to family and friends. They give several others to United Methodist Women’s local and global ministries.

Sewing for mission

The Little Ladies Sewing Circle does two mission projects a year, Schmidt says. Their spring mission is for several agencies that need what the girls can make. They have made numerous items for the Commons, a United Methodist retirement community in Enid, as well as pillowcases for the local Youth and Family Services and quilts for a woman’s prison and crisis center.

The girls have also made items for their church to use in its local ministry. One example is fabric bags the church fills with crayons and coloring papers and for small children to use during worship services. They have also also made items for the church’s mission teams to take survivors of disasters.

For their fall mission project, Little Ladies Sewing Circle helps Cookson Hills Center United Methodist mission in its ministry to people in the hills of northeast Oklahoma. Last fall they made more than 200 Christmas stockings for Cookson Hills to stuff and give to people they serve.

Lifelong lessons

Sewing is a valuable skill for the girls to develop, Schmidt says. “Being able to mend and even to make clothes and other things helps them save time and money, both important in today’s tough economy.”

But she points out that sewing is not the only skill the girls learn.

“What we teach them about sewing helps the girls learn to be patient and persistent. When they finish a challenging project, they discover how it feels to have created something that took their best effort. They learn they can do things they are proud of having done. And when they give what they are made to a loved one, they experience the joy of sharing.”

Schmidt recalls overhearing a 2nd-grader who had just finished a project. She said, “This is for my dad, and he’s gonna love it!”

Girls also learn about United Methodist Women and United Methodist teachings. Every time they come together they repeat the United Methodist Women Purpose, and somebody tells a story that shows how faith applies to daily life.

The Rev. Randy Mitchell, pastor of Enid First United Methodist, knows working closely with the United Meth-odist Women leaders inspires the girls.

“Sue and the women who work with her are wonderful mentors for the girls,” he said. “They exhibit the qualities I think represents United Methodist Women: witness of heart and holiness of mind along with doing the works of mercy and grace.”

A major goal of Little Ladies Sewing Circle is to empower the girls, thereby preparing them to thrive despite economic inequities, exploitative behavior and other injustices women often experience where they work and elsewhere—including even at home and in church.

I asked a girl who is now in the 6th grade why she likes being a part of Little Ladies Sewing Circle. Without looking up from her sewing project, she told me: “I’ve had so much fun learning to sew and make things for myself and others. And I’ve discovered that I can do things that I never dreamed I could do, and that’s going to help me take on new things in the future, and not just in sewing.”

One mother told me what she believes is the most valuable lesson her daughter has learned as a member of the Little Ladies Sewing Circle is that “she knows that in the eyes of God, she is not superior and she is not inferior to anybody. This is going to make a wonderful difference in her life.”

Another mother told me she has been amazed by how being in the circle has helped her daughter grow more confident and more comfortable relating to others, including adults in positions of authority.”

Little Ladies Sewing Circle not only helps those who receive what the girls make and the girls, Schmidt said. “Little Ladies Sewing Circle has helped our United Methodist Women be what United Methodist Women is called to a be. Being part of this mission project has been so helpful to me.”

A woman who teaches with Schmidt told me about a “touching experience” she had recently at a meeting away from the church. “I saw a girl who was in our circle a couple years ago across the room. When our eyes met, we both smiled. She ran over to me and we hugged. It was like meeting a dear friend.”

Another teacher in her late 70s told me that working with the girls has reminded her that 3rd-graders are not too young to serve and that she is not too old. “I’ve learned there’s a place for everyone to serve in God’s mission through United Methodist Women.”

The Rev. Dr. Boyce Bowdon is a retired pastor and former director of communications for the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Posted or updated: 3/8/2018 12:00:00 AM