May 26, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson

Many participants learned to paint gourds at Spring Fling.

For more than 10 years, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Homemakers in northeastern Kentucky have been gathering each spring to learn valuable heritage skills such as sewing, crafting and quilting.

This year, women met at Greenbo State Park to learn to quilt, make fabric purses, paint gourds, sew and assemble red heel sock monkeys, weave baskets and appliqué shirts.
Claudine Williamson was a school teacher for many years. Now she’s retired and the current president of the Greenup County Homemakers.

“We’re homemakers and we need to know these skills for our homes and to better our communities,” she said. “I became a Homemaker in 1995 and now I take all the classes I can because I was a school teacher and I never had the chance to do these things.”

Melvina Blair owns The Quilting Connection in Russell. She’s been attending Spring Fling for many years as a vendor, teacher and participant. She brings things from her shop to sell that may be helpful to participants in the classes.

“This is a big group of crafters taking classes,” she said. “They might need needles and thread or fabric. It’s quite a ways out to town to go get these things, so we like to make it easier for them to continue with their classes and learn as much as they can.”

Blair also taught a class during Spring Fling for quilters. The theme was “Celestial Navigation,” and it detailed a specific quilting pattern and technique. She said her class was aimed more at skilled quilters because of the difficulty level of the pattern, but other classes were aimed at those with beginning and intermediate skills.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for people to come and learn new skills,” she said. “To get such good local talent to teach and share their knowledge with others is just awesome because you don’t see talent like this everywhere.”

Many counties are trying to revive quilting and other heritage skills by offering classes like those at Spring Fling. Blair said she believes quilting died out for awhile and then was revived some in the 1960s. She said quilting was very big in the 1930s because people had to make quilted blankets from scrap material to stay warm. In the 1960s, people started to look at quilting again because they needed a form of relaxation, she said.

In 1995, the average quilter was 52 years old, had an average income of $60,000 and more than four years of a college education. Times have definitely changed from the 1930s, when quilting was for necessity, to now when quilting is more of a hobby.

“You can make a quilt for someone and put all the love you have in your heart into it,” Blair said. “That’s what we want now. We want to do something that will leave a legacy like our grandmothers did.”

Another heritage type craft is a sock monkey. Barbara Brown has been a homemaker for about 18 years, first in Illinois, now in Kentucky. She is a cloth doll and toymaker. Brown taught participants how to make stuffed monkey toys from red-heeled socks. 

“The red-heeled sock monkey is a toy that’s been around since the 1920s and many will remember it because it’s made of a heather-colored sock with a red heel,” she explained. “Many people in the depression made these toys because they had to use anything they had. They are saved over generations because grandma made it.” 

Only one sock company, Foxhill Knitting Company, still makes the red-heeled sock. 

Brown said she’s finding renewed interest in toy making among all generations.

“Many ladies make them for their grandchildren and their great grandchildren,” she said. “Some of the younger ladies are making them for their children now.”

Regardless of the craft or skill, interest in learning new techniques and expanding and updating old ones is steady among Homemakers and other community members. To find out about what classes are available in your area, contact the local Cooperative Extension office.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald  859-257-4736, ext. 267