Sewing for beauty, artistry – and for girls in need

Shamrock Stitchers Quilting Retreat coming up October 4 and 5


Armed with a portable sewing machine, a basket of notions, and a happy smile, a company of sewing enthusiasts meet up every couple of weeks to do their magic.

They are the Shamrock Stitchers, and they meet every second and fourth Tuesday in the Shamrock Centre hall to plug in their sewing machines, fill their bobbins, and have a great day together as the needles hum along.

“We call it a sewing day,” said member Brenda Mitchell. “People can bring their own projects. We can always learn something new from each other. Your husband can’t find you, or interrupt you. It’s a chance for interaction, and sharing of ideas, and we are also good friends.”

Shamrock Stitcher Carol Reimer said the women were initially drawn together by their love of quilting.

“We got together as quilters three years ago,” she said. “We still focus on quilting, but we do other things too. Most quilters will also do things for charity groups.”

And last year the women found a charitable calling that suited them, and their skills, and one that would allow them to help other women in third world countries.

Mitchell, who worked for years as a middle school teacher in Dauphin, had discovered that some girls in the north were sometimes unable to purchase sanitary napkins. She then made sure the school had stocks of the pads available for these students in need.

“They can be too expensive for some families,” she said. “Some girls in Manitoba were not being supplied with feminine hygiene products. If it happens here, I knew it must happen in other places. We were looking to participate in a charity project, and I looked online, and I found the Pad Project. We got involved with them a year ago.”

It turned out to be a perfect fit.

“This project suited us, because it wasn’t an expensive project,” said Reimer. “We would be reusing and recycling things we already had, such as donated towels. In becoming part of the Pad Project we could be useful, purposeful, group-friendly, and we would also be supporting women.”

The Pad Project involves the sewing and creation of re-usable and washable pads for girls and women in impoverished areas. 

The handcrafted pads are grouped into four, added to a package that includes other hygiene items, and are given to school age girls. The girls also received education about menstruation, safe sex and abstinence, feminine hygiene, and how to respect their bodies.

Without this help, the onset of menses often spells the end of schooling for these youngsters, as they often miss out on one week in four of school, and eventually fall behind and fail their exams.

“For many women in third world countries, their education stops when menstruation starts,” said group member Adelyn Nichol. “We know every woman would use these pads.”

“They are often given to the girls by student nurses, who meet with girls, and give them a day-long class in personal hygiene,” said Mitchell.

Companies of sewers like the Shamrock Stitchers are busy throughout North America supporting the worthy project, said Reimer.

“Groups like ours are all across Canada and the U.S.,” she said. “The hygiene kits got to Malaysia, Guatemala, Kenya, Vietnam. When we have enough to fill a box, we send it to the U.S., and they are distributed to where they are needed. We do have some costs, however. Mailing of the filled boxes is around $50 Canadian for postage. And we do have some costs for notions, such as the Velcro, and for supplies such as the waterproof liners. But we get a lot of towel donations.”

Since it began, a lot of these boxes have been distributed to families in need.

“The Pad Project was started in 2003, and 11,000 pads have been made since then,” said Reimer. “There were 3,043 kits made in the Canada and the U.S. – and some of these came from Killarney.”

The pads are designed to be hand washable, and each one can last a girl around three years, added Reimer.

“A pad kit includes two outside liners, which are waterproof, made with a layer of PUL fabric (polyurethane laminate), and then a flannel layer. It wraps around the girl’s underwear, and is held in place with Velcro. Then we have the inserts, made of serged terrycloth: two heavy ones, and two light ones.”

Reimer used her skills to dye the insert material, in shades of blue and purple, to makes them less noticeable when they are hung up to dry. 

Many of the stitchers are also well-known local artists, with skills that range from incredible quilt making, fabric and wool dyeing, clothing design, artwork, and into many other avenues of beauty. 

And they are holding a Quilt Retreat next weekend to celebrate their art, and invite interested sewers to join them in sharing a wonderful day together, united by fellowship, food, and all things sewn.

“It is two full days, on Friday and Saturday, October 4 and 5,” said Mitchell. “People can come and bring something they are working on, and beginners can learn to quilt at our ‘Beginner’s Corner’ (bring your sewing machine and fabrics). We will have speakers, including Katie Friesen. Her quilts are breathtaking, and she will be showing her quilts in a ‘bed-turning,’ which I have never seen, and I am really looking forward to that. Pearl Braun Dyck will also be here, and she will be demonstrating the many uses of pre-cuts in quilt making, plus an old Mennonite tying technique.”

The weekend events also include visiting vendors such as Mama Bear’s Quilt Shoppe, with fabrics, kits, batting, patterns and notions; Simply Sewing, a Killarney business with sewing machines, notions, stabilizers, and quilting supplies; and Abstract Hand Dyes, with fabric dyer Carol Reimer.

And the busy sewers and quilters will not be going hungry over the busy weekend.

“We will have two lunches,” said Mitchell. “The Grind is preparing us fresh soup on both days, and Fiona Hastie and Linda Letts are doing the suppers. Their food is to die for. You get away from making meals, and going to the dealerships for parts. It’s food provided, no dishes, and you get to quilt!”

The Shamrock Stitchers’ Quilting Retreat runs on Friday, October 4, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Saturday, October 5, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., at the Shamrock Centre’s Community Hall in Killarney.

Deadline to register is Tuesday, October 2, and cost is $90 for one day, or $165 for the two days, with deluxe meals and snacks included. 

For more information contact Carol Reimer at 204-523-7476. To register for the retreat, contact the Shamrock Centre at 204-523-8920.

DOUBLE-SIDED WONDER – Holding up Carol Reimer’s gorgeously hand-dyed, two-sided patchwork quilt, are Shamrock Stitchers Susan Van de Velde (left) and Brenda Mitchell. That’s Carol herself, behind them, with a wonderful smile.

THE PAD PROJECT – Killarney’s Shamrock Stitchers sew up hundreds of these washable feminine hygiene pads and liners each year, using recycled towels and PUL fabric, for the Pad Project. The project supports girls in third world countries who cannot afford to buy disposable products, and receiving a hygiene ‘pack’ subsequently helps to keep them enrolled in school.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL – Quilter Kathy Duerksen carefully pieces together a detailed and delicate quilt, during one of the Shamrock Stitchers’ regular sewing days. The group meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at the Shamrock Centre, from September to May.