November 24, 2010

The Master Volunteer in Clothing Construction program started as a way to keep the art of sewing alive. This year, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service program celebrates its 20th anniversary.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, schools across the state were beginning to remove classes in sewing and clothing construction from their curriculum. Linda Heaton, then UK textiles and clothing specialist, Karen Hicks, then Kentucky 4H Youth development specialist, and a group of volunteers realized, without these classes, young people might not have an opportunity to learn sewing. They saw the extension program as a way to fill the gap.

Throughout the years, volunteers have shared their love of sewing with people of all ages. Their efforts have paid off as the program continues to thrive. In early November, 23 participants joined the program as members of its 11th class, bringing the state's total active Master Volunteers in Clothing Construction to 140.

When the program began, Carol Stine of Shelby County was already volunteering her time teaching 4-H'ers in her county sewing techniques at school.  Her county agent encouraged her to join the first class of volunteers. She continues to be active in the program, teaching mainly young people how to sew.

"I get a lot of gratification from teaching the small kids," Stine said. "The children get so excited when they've completed a garment."

Mary Jane McCarty of Gallatin County learned to sew in 4-H when she was 9 years old. She became a Master Volunteer in 2006 and gives back by teaching 4-H'ers. She also has an adult sewing club that meets monthly and hosts a Saturday sewing class a few times a year.

"Sewing gives me a sense of accomplishment," she said.

Each of Kentucky Extension Homemakers' 14 areas chooses two people every two years to attend the statewide volunteer training, where they can qualify to become a Master Volunteer in Clothing Construction. The trainings are a favorite of many in the program.

"The trainings give people a lot of confidence," Stine said. "It allows us to update our skills and shows us the correct way to do things."

"They really stay up with the times," McCarty said. "When I go to the trainings I learn quicker and better ways to do things."

Those who are selected for the program must have some basic sewing knowledge and be active with their county's Cooperative Extension Service. During the workshop, the new participants must make samples and two garments that illustrate their sewing ability.

Once a person becomes a Master Volunteer, they work closely with their county extension agent for family and consumer sciences to offer basic sewing and serger classes to 4-H'ers and community members. They also plan community service projects like caps or pillows for cancer patients or baby blankets. Additionally, they judge extension sewing projects at the county and state level.  These efforts help them accumulate the 100 hours of volunteer time every two years that is required to maintain the Master Volunteer status.

Those interested in learning more about the program can contact their local family and consumer sciences or 4H Youth development extension agents.