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New Mexico State University

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Young Quilters Sewing Up Service Project

CLOVIS -- With every strip of fabric, each seam and every stitch, young quilters from Curry County are learning community spirit as well as sewing skills.

Each of the 20 volunteers is making a baby quilt with someone else in mind. "I'm going to give it to a teenage mother," explained Ashley Denton, 13.

The quilts will be presented to young moms who complete prenatal checkups and parenting classes in conjunction with the Maternal and Child Health Council.

"Project Patchwork" is the creation of Curry County Extension Home Economist Darlene Dickson. The goals are to encourage prenatal care for teens and to carry on a rich legacy of quilting in eastern New Mexico.

"Every one of these girls has had a mentor, so there has been this intergenerational learning that's helping keep up a heritage skill," Dickson said. "Also, I think it's good for people to learn to be giving of themselves. Four-H teaches service, and for these girls to work so hard on the quilts and be willing to give them up I think is a wonderful thing."

Grandmothers and mothers assist quilters, most of whom are 4-H members. On a recent workday, LaVeeta Reed helped a junior quilting circle composed of granddaughter Shantell Hogg from Melrose 4-H, and Blacktower 4-H club members Aimee Vogt, Lizette Meador and Kecia Bradley.

Clustered around a quilt stretched on a PVC-pipe frame, the girls make the finishing touches on a quilt, pulling needles threaded with yarn through the quilt layers, then knotting and trimming the ends, a technique called tacking.

The hum of sewing machines fills the Extension building at the Curry County fairgrounds. The youngest seamstress, Melanie Langston, 7, happily stitches away on her quilt, made with bright purple, pink and yellow butterfly fabric.

Several older teens use rotary cutters to slice strips of contrasting fabric they have sewn together. To make quilt blocks, they attach small checkerboard strips in the nine-patch pattern.

After ironing each seam open, the girls connect the blocks to form the quilt top. They add padding and backing, then finish the edges by binding them together.

The last step is quilting. Jammie Hudson patiently hand-quilts, making tiny stitches through the layers in a heart design. To finish her quilt, Brittney Heaton chose a combination of machine-quilted stars and yarn tacking.

Project Patchwork is supported with a sewing grant from the National 4-H Foundation. The girls want to present 30 quilts on Oct. 26, Make a Difference Day. Dickson says some of them have found quilting is addictive -- and they're already making more. Denton is on her third baby quilt, and is considering making a full-size quilted bedspread for her aunt.

"You're anxious to see what's going to happen next, so you work on the strips and make one block, then you want to see the pattern, then you can't wait to put it together, and then you can't wait to see what it's going to look like bound," Dickson explained. "There's this constant, What's it going to look like next?"

She compared finishing a quilt to turning the last page of a good book. "When it's over, you're almost sad, so you have one or two quilts going all the time."