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Old-school club teaches skill to new kids

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POSTED: March 10, 2017 6:30 p.m.
Photo by Alena Cowley/

Sewing Club volunteer instructor Denise Coakley helps club members Emma Patterson and Karlie McGhee Feb. 28 at the Bryan County Extension Office in Pembroke.

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Video games and social media aren’t the only things holding the attention of some youngsters. A group of Pembroke kids is learning a classic skill that apparently is just as captivating.

The University of Georgia 4-H Extension Office off North College Street recently started a sewing club. And at the helm are Bryan County residents and friends Denise Coakley and Sheryl Terkildsen.

According to Coakley, the half a dozen or so kids who gather 5 to 7 p.m. every other Tuesday are learning a life skill that has essentially disappeared.

"Sewing and quilting is not necessarily something that’s out there any more," Coakley said. "This is something to teach them a life skill – that they can sew up a button, sew up a seam or something that they’ve torn and not have to toss it and go buy a new one."

Just barely a month old, the club had some members complete their first sewing project last week.

Karlie McGhee, 11, admitted her first project was hard, but she pushed through it.

"When we got closer to the end, it started to get easier," McGhee said at the Feb. 28 club meeting. "It feels good to make a pillowcase."

McGhee beamed while she showed her mom the finished product at the end of the meeting.

With donated fabric, thread, sewing machines and other materials, Coakley and Terkildsen teach the children everything about the skill, including proper sewing terms and technique.

From Army greens to making seams

A lot of hands-on learning goes on during the meetings as Coakley and Terkildsen work the room to offer club members individual help. They can spot a mistake and guide the children in how to fix it.

And it is no wonder. Both women are practically self-taught crafters.

"I used scissors and didn’t know what a rotary cutter was," Terkildsen said of her beginnings.

"It was something that you learned to do so you didn’t get cabin fever," Coakley said, explaining how she learned to quilt while stationed at Fairbanks, Ala.

Both women are retired Army officers.

"We met in 2008 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where we were stationed together as active duty nurses," Coakley said.

Shortly after, they formed a sewing and quilting group with another friend. They walked hospital halls for Uncle Sam by day and spent their Friday nights running stitches for fun.

With more than 60 years of military service between them, the women described an appreciation for the sense of independence and camaraderie their sewing club has built in the youngsters.

"It’s really neat to see the shared learning experience that happens in this small room when we’re here every other Tuesday," Terkildsen said.

There is more than just the hum of the machines, according to Terkildsen, who described the students’ spirited conversations.

"There’s a camaraderie that’s happening right here and you see these young minds just grasp a concept and all the sudden they’re out running with it," Terkildsen said. "So, it’s really refreshing and joyful."

Weaving a tight-knit community

Terkildsen explained the idea for the club came "quite unexpectedly," while stopping by the Extension Office for a book drive last fall. Later, their display table at the 4-H’s pancake breakfast sealed the deal, as the women fielded enough interest from the kids to form the club.

Complying with 4-H volunteer policies, the women went through an application process, including reference and background checks, and the club just held its third meeting last week.

Coakley and Terkildsen started the children with "the very basics," including threading a machine, how to wind up the bobbin, speeding up and down foot pedal, and mastering the quarter-inch seam.

The women work the room to offer individual help as needed, given that age differences make individual progress vary.

"It’s a good outlet for manual dexterity and fine motor skills," Terkildsen said.

By way of plans, the women hope to start a quilting business where people can learn the skill.

Right now, they teach monthly quilt classes at a shop in Springfield and go by the name Sisters Quilting, a nod to their Army sisterhood.

"We just hope to be able to sew and play with fabric and teach people how to make things that they want to make," Terkildsen said.

And there is always room for more.

"It’s just great fun. I would recommend others to do it," Coakley said.

The club’s next meeting is March 14 and is open to 4th to 12th graders.

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