Seamstresses gather to create clothes for Oklahoma tornado victims

Soon after a massive tornado devastated Moore, Okla., last month, a Linthicum seamstress leaped into action, formulating a plan to help the victims.

Kathy Furth began reaching out to thread-savvy friends from her parish and a local sewing organization to gauge interest. She asked them: Do you want to join forces to make clothes for children who lost everything in the disaster?

The positive responses to her inquiries were overwhelming, she said.

"It just spread like crazy," said Furth, owner of Sew Many Seams, a business that specializes in creating one-of-a-kind liturgical vestments.

Furth's planning paid off Saturday as two dozen seamstresses gathered in a Jessup parish hall with the goal of creating 200 sets of clothes. Each seamstress brought her sewing machine and set to work at 9 a.m. for a 12-hour day of "power sewing." The fruits of "Sew Day for OK" will be shipped this week to a congregation near the path of the mile-wide twister.

"These will give these kids some hope," said Furth from behind her machine, mounted on a card table in the recreation center at St. Lawrence Martyr Roman Catholic Church.

She spent the last week with a friend, Anne LoBue, cutting patterns from brightly colored, kid-friendly material, she said. All that prep work allowed Saturday's volunteers to launch out of the gate. By 11 a.m. dozens of items were already complete, including blankets that were being assembled by nonsewers.

Since recipients of the clothes are likely to be doing their washing in mobile laundromats, the seamstresses selected easy-care, noniron fabrics, Furth said. The cloth they chose for items including pajama bottoms, reversible jumpers and bloomers features pictures of bacon and eggs and the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster, among other patterns.

"These are things that they won't have to wait for," Furth said. "They don't require insurance. They don't require disaster relief money."

Furth was inspired to organize the epic sewing event by a friend from New Jersey who put together a similar, though smaller, event after Hurricane Sandy destroyed communities there last year. Furth took part in that sew-a-thon with about eight other people and saw what was possible when a few folks combine their efforts. They produced more than 30 garments in six hours for Sandy victims, Furth said.

Karin Eveland of Columbus, N.J., brought her sewing machine down to Jessup to join in Saturday.

"Since she came up to me, I came down to her," Eveland said. "The more we do these things, the more organized we could get them."

In addition to finding volunteers to sew, Furth also got commitments from people to cook three meals for the seamstresses, persuaded A Fabric Place on Falls Road to discount materials and collected monetary donations from St. Lawrence's Knights of Columbus chapter to pay for supplies.

Instead of going through a large aid organization, Furth and her helpers are donating the clothes directly to St. Andrew the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Moore. The church lies just blocks from where some of the worst damage was done by the May 20 storm. Scores of families from the parish lost everything, Furth said.

The parish asked that the St. Lawrence sewers send clothes sized for toddlers up through kids in the fifth grade, Furth said.

They plan to put all of the clothing in the mail on Friday, after more items are donated by members of the Chesapeake Treasures, the local chapter of the Smocking Arts Guild of America, an association of needlework artists. Some sewers were not able to attend Saturday's gathering but are still creating clothes for children of St. Andrew's families, Furth said.

Giving handmade clothing does take the place of monetary donations, said Sister Helen Milano, who was helping two other nonsewers Saturday morning make tags to attach to the garments that read "Love, Believe, Hope!"

But volunteering time to create a present that may relieve a parent and comfort and child offers a greater sense of connection to the recipients, she said.

"There's something different about it," Milano said. "There's an intimacy here. It's person to person."

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