Seamstress transforms rags into works of art


A Westminster charity is turning castoffs into cash to finance programs for the needy.

Shepherd's Staff, an ecumenical outreach ministry that has for a decade provided help to Carroll families, counts its annual clothing donations in tons, said director Kathryn C. Brown.

Some donations are suitable for the charity's career and school clothing cupboards, but others are not much more than rags - stained, frayed or well-worn.

The discard pile has decreased significantly since Ruth Hernandez offered her sewing skills to the charity that once helped her.

"Kathy and I got to talking about sewing and what she needed," said Hernandez, 48. "I wanted something to do and I had ideas that could help."

Hernandez, who suffers from degenerative arthritis and cannot work full-time, creates patterns for gift bags. Her concepts have become attractive additions in the "Sunday Morning" gift baskets the charity sells to raise funds.

The decorated baskets, filled with breakfast foods, gourmet coffees and teas, have become a popular gift item that helps finance staff programs. Since Brown introduced Sunday Morning gift baskets two years ago, sales have increased steadily. In December, she hired a part-time packer and recently she hired Hernandez as a seamstress. Pay is $5.50 an hour.

With two donated sewing machines - one at the staff center on Carroll Street and the other at her home in Manchester - Hernandez works on her design patterns. From scraps of cloth, she makes bags for scone mix or flower seeds, sacks for bottles and whimsical items such as a sleeve stitched closed at one end, filled with tea bags and honey sticks and finished with a tie.

"I sort through the donations and look for pieces with no stains," Hernandez said. "I utilize what I can and I am planning to make the extra pieces into a quilt. Sewing is really relaxing for me and it's giving me the opportunity to make extra money."

She works about 20 hours a week designing patterns and stitching remnants into novelties.

"I knew I could make something out of these pieces of cloth," said Hernandez, who enjoys the work so much that she often takes it home with her. "Shepherd's Staff has really been good to me. I had to come here for help myself and now, even though I can't support them financially, I am helping them generate income."

Brown has long hoped to provide what she calls nontraditional employment for the many clients of Shepherd's Staff. Because of physical and mental disabilities, many cannot work a 40-hour week.

"We have a business that funds outreach, provides job opportunities, supports local small businesses and recycles," Brown said.

Sunday Morning gift baskets are available at Shepherd's Staff, 30 Carroll St., Westminster, and at several retail stores in the county. Information: 410-857-5944.

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