Surrounded by brightly colored fabrics, tables form a central herringbone in the open classroom at Medford's Fasturn Junction. As in many independent fabric shops, the tables host sewers learning new techniques for quilts, clothing and sundries.
On Wednesday mornings, the whir and thump of sewing machines, conversation and laughter fill the space at 3859 S. Stage Road, but no one is giving instructions.
Shirley Ewing, Betty Robinson, Sandi Benfield and Alma Gates are veteran sewers who have gathered for the weekly Community Sew, where the goal is to spread joy and comfort directly to people in need.
It's one of the numerous Rogue Valley groups sponsored by American Sewing Guild, and each woman is sewing a favorite item. Today, two quilts and a child's dress are being stitched. When complete, the finished products will be donated to one of the many nonprofits that distribute their handiwork directly to people in need.
In an adjacent space — about 10 by 22 feet — fabric, batting, thread, yarn and other sundries are stored neatly on shelves. Small, hand-lettered signs are taped to the shelf face: “Knits for children,” “Holiday,” “Flannel,” “Quilt backs.” Other shelves are stacked with cotton fabrics, all separated by color.
The talk alternates between a mutual friend's recent diagnosis and needle size and thread color. Robinson bends over a small green jumper, pinning the neck facing.
“I make little dresses, jumpers or pajamas. It goes fast,” she says. “I feel a lot of the families with real young children need a lot of help.”
The majority of clothes made here go to Safe Place Resource Center, where families receive food under the federal government's Women, Infants and Children program. The clothes are free, not resold for cash, a point all the women agree is important to them.
“That the donated fabric is turned into something usable is hugely satisfying to all of us,” says Ewing, who makes small quilts given to young children taken from unsafe homes.
Benfield, who attends several of the group sew sessions, works on quilts that are auctioned in the shop to raise funds for sewing necessities that aren't donated.
“The love of sewing and passing things on to someone in need” has kept her involved for years, she says.
Gates finishes the quilts on the group's long-arm sewing machine, also kept in donated space at Fasturn. A former home economics teacher in Gold Hill, Gates coordinates many of the projects for this group and other community sewing groups that meet at Fasturn. She enjoys the process and the camaraderie.
“People become your life-long friends,” she says. “Then they can take care of each other.”
When Gates, a former president of the local guild chapter, learns of a need, she tries to find a sewer among members who can complete the project. A veteran at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics recently received the jeans quilt he'd been wishing for when Armella Wharton, an 87-year-old group member, stitched jeans squares together for him.
“She's one of our prolific sewers,” says Gates.
In addition to patients of SORCC and U.S. troops, the nonprofit organizations ACCESS Inc., St. Vincent de Paul Society, Dunn House and Magdalene Home are among the recipients of the group's stitchery. Neck rolls, armchair caddies, walker bags and door “draft-busters” are simple comforts. The homeless are given drawstring bags with toiletries. Abused children get trauma dolls or small quilts they can hug.
It's heartfelt work done in an atmosphere of friendship and generosity. It's straightforward and matter-of-fact, just like the straight stitch that joins the fabric.
“This is my way of giving to the community,” says Robinson, eyes on the needle, sewing as she speaks.
The shop still has empty tables, and a little sign in front invites others to attend.
“Don't think you don't sew well enough to join,” Robinson says. “You do!”