Writer  /  Tonja Talley
Photographer  /  Ron Stiemert

A large quilt sat taut in an old quilting frame. The beautiful quilt consisted of three layers: the quilt top, batting and backing. Construction of the quilt’s top utilized many blocked squares individually created by members of the Nimble Thimble of Johnson County.

The design on each square stayed the same while the color palette reflected the individual quilter’s unique style. Positioned on each side of the frame, members hand quilted the three layers together. Why do these members do it by hand? “Tradition,” said Nimble Thimble member Diana Etter. “We enjoy passing along our ancestors’ sewing skills to future generations.”

Genesis of Nimble Thimble
In 1988, seven women desired to use their passion of sewing to give back to Johnson County. According to club president Donna McElwain, few sewing clubs around the nation participate in philanthropic projects like the Nimble Thimble.

She said this aspiration to help others draws many sewers and quilters to the group still today. “For me, quilting is like putting a puzzle together. It soothes me.”

Making for Others
The group encourages our future generation to embrace sewing as a form of self-expression. Through proceeds from many quilt raffles, the club donated sewing machines, sewing supplies, fabric and cash donations to Johnson County’s Family and Consumer Science (FACS) classes in 2015.

Franklin Community’s FACS teacher Barbara Torrey was one of these classroom recipients. In cooperation with the American Sewing Guild Indy, Torrey utilized her items as a community service project for teens. The 63 students from six area schools gathered October 31 to cut, sew and iron 517 Christmas stockings for Indiana troops and military families overseas.

“All the students—including three foreign exchange students from Italy, Brazil and Germany—enjoyed the stocking workshop. Knowing it was Halloween, we dressed in costumes and had a great time making for others,” said Torrey.

Looking at the club’s monthly activities may make some dizzy, but the 90-member Nimble Thimble club willingly undertakes each project with gusto and teamwork. Many clubs expect a member to participate in a certain number of activities. “With the Nimble Thimble, you are welcome to do as little or as much as you want. With my sometimes hectic schedule, I appreciate their consideration of my time. As a newer member, the group has been so nice to teach me easier techniques for some projects,” said Center Grove resident Cheryl Stiemert.

The group holds monthly meetings at the Johnson County Extension Office on the first Friday of each month. Going to a meeting can be exhilarating for a person enthusiastic about sewing or quilting. Stepping into the room, creativity captures the senses. Meeting days consist of old and new business, along with new project sign-ups, show-and-tell and sewing or quilting technique demonstrations. The inspiration gained from these meetings spills over into the individual’s home sewing rooms or at the all-day sewing events.

On all-day sewing events, members come and go as their schedules allow. Members and various projects fill the room. On any given workday, several members created prayer shawls for donor families of the Indiana Donor Network while some members stack 56 lap quilts for a few hospice centers. On another workday, groups huddled at cutting, sewing and ironing stations designing book bags for First Step preschoolers from Head Start — 156 bags total.

At even another workday in 2015, the group found themselves “in stitches” over a conversation they enjoyed while making soft flannel blankets for the preemies of the St. Francis Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Member Laura Bushong, a St. Francis NICU nurse, explained, “The time in the NICU can be hard on parents. It is nice to be able to brighten their days and circumstances with our colorful baby blankets.”

This past November, a few members spoke on the involvement of quilts through the ages. According to member Phyllis Reynolds, quilts in some way tell about our nation’s history. For instance, the famous log cabin quilts became popular during Lincoln’s presidential campaign. In the lean times of the Depression, Reynolds explained how towels, dresses and quilts utilized feed sacks as their fabric.

“During this time, feed sack companies printed their sacks with designs on them. Many times, the selected feed for the animals had more to do with the color of the sack than the choice of grain, depending on what would be made from the sack.”

Today, quilts remain a necessity for warmth, but the designs are more a work of art. Nevertheless, no matter what may be constructed, the Nimble Thimble members will continue weaving threads throughout the county.

For more information on the Nimble Thimble, please contact club president Donna McElwain at 317-862-5709 or dmcelwain@yahoo.com.

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