HAMLET — One of the senior center’s most active groups is it’s Thursday sewing class, led by Jimmy Reese.
“Most seniors can already sew, or they have in the past, so it’s not a structured class like they went through when they had home (economics),” Reese said. “I just help ‘em out with different little projects they’re working on.”
Sewing machines are available at a few tables in an open work space, and members of the group move from place to place as needed. Reese said people in the class tend to specialize at favorite items.
“We have people that do everything from making clothes to making pocketbooks,” he said. “Brenda (Diggs) makes pocketbooks, and pillows. We had one lady that’s not here today, her big thing is doll clothes for all of her grandchildren. It’s whatever kind of project they want to work on.”
Maria Council indicated a corner set up for quilting.
“They do different quilt tops,” she said. “Once the top is sewn together, they tack it. They quilt it by hand. It’s all hand work.”
“We try to make it interesting,” Reese said. “We do take trips. A couple of weeks ago we went up to Sanford to the quilt show that was up there, and spent the day. Not everybody got a chance to go, but we do trips periodically through the center, because it’s less expensive that way.”
As instructor for the class, Reese said it doesn’t matter how much anyone knows about sewing when they begin.
“Somebody can be an absolute rank beginner or an expert,” he explained. “We’ve got all of ‘em from one end to the other in this class. Brenda is fantastic at sewing.”
“I made the pocketbooks,” Diggs said, bringing out a sample to display.
“This is going to be a quilt for my granddaughter,” Council said. “It’s of horses, so here’s the top and the material to match the bottom of it.”
Council demonstrated how the pattern for making a dress — the other project she was working on — is used to make the shape and size precise.
Having spent his life repairing sewing machines, Reese said while he was working for a plant in Raeford, one of the women working at a sewing station asked him if he could sew.
“I said, ‘I can’t make anything on the machine,’” Reese explained. “And she said, ‘Well, if you’d learn how to sew, you’d better understand what we have to deal with out here on the line trying to sew.’ And I got thinking about it and thought, ‘You know, that makes sense.’ And I signed up back when it was RTI (now Richmond Community College) and I signed up for a basic sewing class under Miss Maxine Meacham, who’s long since departed. And I just fell in love with it.”
He said when Meacham’s health declined to the point she could no longer teach the class, the technical institute hired him to take over.
“When the funds ran out for some of the things like that, I just continued on as a volunteer,” Reese said. “We’ve never quit it.”
“Jimmy is really a good teacher,” Diggs said. “He makes it fun, he’s helpful with each one of us.”
Council said the class is “great fun” and she encourages people to come in and take a look or just plain join in.
“We have at least 10 members,” said Diggs.
“Maybe 10 or 12,” Reese agreed. “It picks up and dies down and picks up and dies down. We have a lot of people that have been coming. I’ve been teaching it like 32 or 33 years.”
“There’s always something new to learn or something that maybe you’ve forgotten,” Council said.
“I learn as much from the students because of seeing the way they do things,” Reese said. “Because they have ideas I’d never think about. For everything you make there’s several different ways to do it. You pick up stuff from other people. Sewing is a dying art.”
Reese said his favorite sewing machine is the Pfaff made in Germany, and that he prefers the older machines. On Thursday, he was using a Kenmore.
“But most any machine can be good for something,” he said. “All of ‘em have good points and bad points, no matter what brand it is.”
Reese said he keeps a few sewing machines if he finds interesting ones.
“One of my favorite machines was built in 1857,” he said. “That’s pre-Civil War. People don’t realize that they had sewing machines back even into the 1840s. But that machine was found on what used to be a farm down in Georgia, out from Atlanta. The machine had been hidden in the basement of the barn when Sherman came through. The barn wound up getting burned down, but anyway, the thing got plowed up during construction of a mall, I think. It wound up being given to me from a friend of mine that knew the fellow that bulldozed it up.”
Reese said he soaked the machine in a bucket of linseed oil for two weeks, then delicately took it apart and cleaned it up.
“Then I put it back together, and it still runs,” he said. “It looks like a toy, but it was a Wilcox and Gibbs, and that was one of the early sewing machines.”
Valerie Lunceford, another member of the class, was absent Thursday afternoon — with good reason.
“She’s volunteering with the community theater in Rockingham,” he said. “She’s been working on costumes for them in the class. She doesn’t need sewing lessons, but she likes to come hang out with the rest of us. This is more of an old-fashion sewing bee than a class.”
The group meets every Thursday at the Hamlet Senior Center from 1:30 4:00 p.m.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.