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Kenmare church group sews and quilts for World Relief

When Ilene Hoff learned how to sew many years ago, she couldn’t have imagined what she is doing with that talent now.

9/22/15 (Tue)

Working every Monday for a good cause... Five area women spend every Monday afternoon at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Kenmare sewing quilts, dresses and other items. From left; the group is Goldie Fjeld, Ilene Hoff, Margie Hansen, Wanda Landers and Barb Scherbenske seated at the sewing machine.

By Marvin Baker

When Ilene Hoff learned how to sew many years ago, she couldn’t have imagined what she is doing with that talent now.

Hoff, 85, single handedly sewed together 48 dresses together recently for young girls made completely of recycled materials.

The dresses, bound for relief efforts in Africa are made almost exclusively of pillow cases that are donated. Hoff puts the dresses together for a program called Little Dresses for Africa.

Forty additional dresses had recently been sent to a clearinghouse in Minnesota, then on to Africa.

“I enjoy sewing,” Hoff said. “It’s my therapy. When I’m down, I go to the machine.”

Hoff learned how to sew from her grandmother, who was a seamstress in Norway.

Her mother was also an accomplished seamstress, having sewed dresses from flour sacks that she said looked like ordinary dresses and nobody would have known they were once a flour sack.

The generational education paid off because Hoff, who sewed suits for her sons and dresses for her daughters, can put together one of the dresses in about an hour.

“I enjoy sewing. It relaxes me and it makes me feel good,” Hoff said. “I can do something for someone at my age.”

Hoff, along with Wanda Landers, Barb Scherbenske, Margie Hansen and Goldie Fjeld, all meet at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Kenmare on Monday afternoons for sewing and organizing fabrics.

“We have had donations like you wouldn’t believe,” Landers said of the pillow cases. “The hem is already there from the pillow case. It’s something new. It’s a new project in the past year.”

According to Landers, if the pillow cases, for some reason, won’t work for dresses, they are made into dog beds that go to animal shelters such as the Humane Society.

These ladies, a rare group of people who actually like Mondays, do much more than sew dresses and organize fabrics.

Quilting is a big thing for them, but they have also sewed shorts together for young boys in Africa as well.

“We’re also doing quilts for World Relief and domestic violence,” Landers said. “If there is a disaster in the United States,  the quilts will go there.”

She used the 2011 Souris River flood as an obvious example of a disaster. She said a lot of quilts that spring went to the Red Cross.

“We’ll sell one if somebody wants to buy one and we can get more materials,” Landers said. “If they happen to like one, we’ll sell it.”

In addition, if someone locally has a fire and loses belongings, they will donate quilts for the cause.

But as Landers pointed out, it’s all for goodwill. The ladies are not in this to make a profit. They are in it to help the less fortunate, and to get together and spend time together.

According to Landers, the only item that is purchased is the batting for the quilts.

She said they have a connection in Oakley, Minn., where they can purchase batting that is up to 60 inches wide.

Otherwise, their work is all for relief as well as providing a parting gift for high school seniors affiliated with Nazareth Lutheran Church. Those quilts are usually made of denim.

Each child baptized in Nazareth Lutheran Church also gets a quilt.

“We like donated new material,” Landers said. “We’re always trying to make better quality.”

Hansen said the fabrics, as well as the finished products, are well organized.

In that respect, they can save a lot of prep time and put the items together faster than most would think.

For the quilts, they cut the fabrics into squares, which end up becoming the tops of the quilts.

“We try to make it so it isn’t haphazard,” Landers said. “We make roughly 200 units a year. We don’t just make quilts.”

According to Scherbenske, there is no cookie-cutter solution to what they are creating.

“They are one of a kind,” she said. “Each one is definitely unique.”

According to Landers, cotton is the preferred material to work with. However, they’ve received a lot of polyester in donations and will work with it, but cotton is better.

“We get a lot of polyester because nobody works with it anymore,” she said. “All the materials are donated, unless there is a specific request. The thread, the material, it’s all donated. We only buy the batting.”

Landers added that sometimes they will go to the fabric stores in Minot to see if they might obtain some material that way.

When asked how this unique group of women came together, there was considerable debate and Landers said there had been some form of a quilting club in Kenmare since 1976 when help was needed for San Haven, the sanitorium near Dunseith.

After San Haven closed, the quilts began going to World Relief.

Landers started in 1996, when Ovidia Jensen was heading up the group. She later became president of WELCA and inherited the responsibility.

She drives up from Minot every Monday. That includes holidays.

“Yes, we were here Labor Day,” Landers said. “Everybody has a job to do and they know what to do if one of us isn’t here. We’ll take two weeks off at Christmas, but otherwise, we’re here every Monday. Coffee is at 3.”

All five admit this isn’t an exclusive club. They would like others to join. In fact, Landers said some ladies from the hospital drop by and cut squares occasionally.

“Many of them were quilters and they enjoy being a part of it,” Landers said. “We need help, help, help and you don’t have to be sewers.”

Other Lutheran ladies around the country do similar volunteer work and Landers said 408,000 quilts were donated last year for World Relief nationwide.

“If you see the children of refugees wearing these bright clothes, they’re probably donated,” Landers said. “So anywhere there’s a need, they’ll get clothes or quilts.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!