July 12, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence

The sewing machines hum and race against each other, drawing in fabric and pushing out clothing. But this is not just any clothing. It’s clothing customized with built-in support – psychological support, that is.

In the conference room in the McCreary County office of University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, a group of eight women regularly get together to sew “adaptive clothing” for wounded military personnel who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s part of Sew Much Comfort, a national nonprofit organization whose mission, as stated on its Web site, is “to design, create and deliver customized clothing for these brave troops.” 

“The overall goal of the program is to provide – of course, it’s a rather limited wardrobe – but a wardrobe for the personnel to meet their needs so that they can dress themselves, so that they can have easy access for the tests and wound care that they need,” said Kathy Brannon, McCreary County family and consumer sciences agent. “And it kind of gives them a boost as far as their self-esteem to not be stuck in a hospital gown the whole time that they’re being treated.”

Faced with more than 10,000 wounded soldiers from the conflicts in the Middle East, the national organization has not yet been able to meet its goal to provide a varied wardrobe to each soldier, from the basics such as underwear to clothing they can wear out in public. But groups like the one in McCreary County are helping.

Brannon organized the local group when fellow seamstress Mary Ann Bybee approached her with the idea after seeing it on the Internet. Bybee said that, as a nurse, she was aware of some of the problems the clothing would address. But for her, as for the other women in the group, there is a more personal reason for doing this work.

“I want to help,” she said. “My husband spent 20 years in the Air Force and I’m thankful he wasn’t injured. And that’s one reason that I like to do this.”

“We were interested, I think all of us, in doing something to help out,” Brannon said. “And of course, on the home front there are limited opportunities to show your support, and we felt like this would be a good way.”

The group was required to submit sample garments to the national Sew Much Comfort organization before they were sanctioned to proceed. Since then, Bybee stays in close contact with a regional coordinator in Tip City, Ohio. The coordinator makes sure the women have the supplies they need, including patterns, fabric, and ready-made clothing articles that the women alter. The women have also bought boxers or athletic shorts on their own. When the McCreary County sewers finish a batch, Bybee ships the completed clothing to the regional coordinator. 
From there, the national organization distributes them to a variety of American military bases and medical facilities both in the United States and abroad.

Master Sewing Volunteers Mary Ruth Stephens and Wanda Strunk are part of the sewing circle of friends who donate their time and talent to the project. They both have had relatives serve in the military. Stephens, who has a son and a son-in-law in the service, said she is glad to be able to help out.

“My heart goes out to people who cannot dress themselves and feel so confined,” she said. “We thought this would be a good project.”

There is a warm-hearted camaraderie among the women as they chat and laugh over the sound of the sewing machines. Stories are told, news is spread in much the same way it was when preceding generations of women gathered together to sew. When Strunk is asked why she is doing this, she responds with an immediate, “Well, because Kathy told me to.” This is punctuated by a burst of laughter from all the women. But Strunk, who had three brothers who served in Vietnam, quickly turns serious again.

“I love to sew,” she said, “and I love the idea of doing this for the servicemen.”

For a moment the mood in the room turns reflective.

“I’ve kind of caught myself as I’ve been sewing,” Stephens said, “just saying sort of a little silent prayer for whomever this garment goes to that it might be a comfort to him.”

Anyone interested in joining the McCreary County Sew Much Comfort group or in starting their own can contact Kathy Brannon at 606-376-2524. More information about Sew Much Comfort can be found at http://www.sewmuchcomfort.org.



Kathy Brannon, 606-376-2524