Nadia Karber spread yards of purple fabric across a sewing table, with all manner of lines marking inches. She measured and remeasured to assure accuracy before carefully pinning pattern pieces to the material. Then, from a sturdy apron this 9-year-old had just made for herself, she pulled out her sewing scissors.
Just as she was set to cut, her teacher whispered, "Measure again. Your lines are not quite straight."
"I try to save them from their mistakes," said Peggy Steinberg.
Nadia and several other fledgling designers are in stitches with the Sew Fun Sewing Club at Winand Elementary School in Randallstown. Every Tuesday, the club members turn a classroom into a sewing center, under the guidance of Margaret Garland, owner of Sew Fabulous sewing school, and her mother, Steinberg, who is a retired teacher and frequent substitute at the elementary.
"Once I get them started, they just keep going with their projects," said Garland. "These kids are really motivated."
As Garland and Steinberg move about this sewing bee, they answer a constant barrage of questions, watch over the projects, offer advice and usually give the students leeway. The all-girl classmates have made aprons with pockets for their tools, hats and mittens for a homeless shelter, whimsical pillows, and are now tackling additions to their spring wardrobe.
Sewing is a life skill that every child can and should learn, Garland said.
"Sometime in your life, somehow, some way, you will have to sew," she said.
What if you don't have enough money to buy a prom dress, asked Christina Trice, a fifth-grader years away from prom season, who answered her own question: "You can make a great dress yourself."
The students started out in September with hand stitching but quickly moved to one of the several sewing machines Garland brings to the class.
"A sewing machine is easier," Nadia said. "All you do is press the pedal."
Not quite, said Garland. The children learn how to thread, manipulate the fabric and grasp the basics of the machine.
"They can jump on any different machine I bring in," Garland said. "They know how to use them all."
Jackie Scribner watched in wonder as her 7-year-old daughter Treasure Gregory worked deftly on an apron at the machine. The mother admits to a sewing deficiency but has decided to finally take a new machine out of the box at home and stitch with her daughter.
"She just loves this class," said Scribner. "She does hand stitching at home and is already putting buttons on for me. My daughter is more open to all this. Maybe she can show me how."
Janai Wilcox had one more strap to attach to her orange and yellow apron before it was ready for her to "show and share" with her third-grade classmates. She made her own personal statement with a fringed patch sewn onto one apron pocket. And while the others were following skirt patterns, Janai set her sights on pajama pants.
Judile Castro, a fourth-grader and the newest club member, said she can't wait to wear what she makes. She arrived with soft cotton fabric filled with the images of smiling cats imposed on a white background. She might make a skirt, pajamas or something else, she said.
Steinberg warned that the cats might be looking in the wrong direction if the young stitcher didn't reverse the fabric.
"I feel like I can be creative and do anything," Judile said.
For Christina, basic sewing is a fun hobby that might just blossom into a fashion design career.
"I love sewing and I know it will help me in the future," she said. "It teaches you to plan and to figure out what you need. Once you get the hang of it, you wonder why you thought it was so hard."
Zoe Scott has found that her third-grade math skills have helped her compute how much material and thread she needs for each project. She hoped to make a miniskirt from bright green fabric, but Steinberg suggested a tad more length.
"I know, below my knees," Zoe said.
Tatiyana Terrelonge, a third-grader, has found sewing is a "good activity that makes you feel happy while you are doing it."
She said she stayed happy even when a project she was working on required a complete do-over. That error taught her how exacting the craft can be and added to her confidence, she said. "I won't give up," she said.
Fiona Coulter, the school's art teacher, said the lessons are spilling over into other classes.
"The children are doing amazing things, and it's a joy to watch them create," Coulter said. "They are learning to follow a pattern, measure and stitch. They are actually helping classmates put together the latest art project — an Inuit tapestry."