Monday, June 09, 2014

Hat Ladies in June

Hat Ladies in June is just about like Christmas in July!  I belong to a group of women and two men who sew polar fleece hats for kids and adults in need.  The sewing project started more than 12 years ago by sewing polar fleece hats for kids at all of our county's Head Start (and related) programs.  We wanted to use our sewing skills to make sure that all kids had warm heads during Wisconsin's cold and windy winters.

Some of the solid color triangles.
We purchased polar fleece and cut hundreds of pieces, using solid colors only, and brought the pieces and our sewing machines to the Head Start locations.  Kids and their care givers selected the colors for each hat and we sewed them onsite, with the kids sitting next to us, while we talked with them.  It was great fun and all the kids (and parents!) loved the hats.

This is only a small portion of the array of patterned rectangles for the brim.

We expanded to include elementary schools one year when I did a lot of volunteer work at a low income school.  I tried to think of a way to make hats for all the low income kids at the school.  But, I didn't want to stigmatize the low income kids.  So I proposed making hats for ALL the kids in the school.  And we expanded the color choices to include printed fabric!  The entire school had a great time selecting the colors and patterns to make about 400 unique hats. 

Well, this was truly the start of something big.  In the years to come we expanded the number of hat "seamsters" to more than 30, including two men.  We now have people who dedicate themselves to cut the fleece.  We still purchase the fleece and donate it and our time.  Sometimes the PTO at a school donates fleece.   This past year we sewed more than 6,000 hats.  At about six hats per yard of fleece, this comes out to 1,000 yards of fleece!!!
Hat Ladies ready for action.

Back to my story.  This year I have been volunteering in a Spanish immersion classroom.  The teacher wanted to have the kids write a book about how to make something.  She asked if I would make hats with the kids.  Due to curricular schedules, we made the hats on June 3!!!  Not quite the season for polar fleece hats, but this did not dampen the kids' enthusiasm.

I was able to recruit two "Hat Ladies" who were suffering "hat making withdrawal" and they helped me make hats for two first grade classrooms.  We took pains to explain the process carefully to each child while we were sewing his/her unique hat.
Me, in Librarian mode.

First, I read a book to the kids about making hats at another school.   Then, the kids selected their six triangles and one rectangle in their colors of choice.  If desired, they also selected three little pieces for a tassel on the top.
 When each child came to sit with one of the Hat Ladies, the child explained how he/she wanted the pieces arrayed.  Regardless of age or gender, all the kids had firm ideas of the color order.  Then we began to sew.

Talking with the students while we are sewing is great fun and enlightening.  We talk about why they selected the colors, what subject they like best in school, what they want to be when they grow up, how many siblings they have, whether they have a pet, whether they have ever seen a sewing machine before.  Most kids have not seen a sewing machine.  Some kids say that their grandmothers have a machine.  One girl commented that her 15 year old sister has a machine!  Often kids want to run the machine themselves, but we explain how dangerous the needle is, and so forth.  We make sure the kids keep their hands on the table.

 The crown of the hat has six triangles.  This is when the hat begins to look like a hat.  Kids are typically thrilled with this step, and put the crown on top of their heads.  Of course it doesn't stay on.  So we explain the importance of the band--to hold the hat on the head and to keep the ears warm.  I sometimes talk about the use of the word "crown" for the top of the hat. 
Here we are at "full strength" for this classroom.  When we sew hats for an entire school we set up shop in the library or the gym, with 15 or more machines and "sewers", five or more helpers, plus teachers, the principal and curious other staff.  The teachers use the event for literacy lessons (writing), art (drawing) math and more.  Kids are uniformly polite, grateful and awed.

I would love to show photos of kids in their hats--their smiles are so genuine.  But, I hesitate to post photos that would identify any child.  Here are some of the hats.  All different, each unique, each reflecting some aspect of the child who designed it.  The excitement and gratitude of the kids does not vary according to income, grade level or gender.

My mother made all of our clothing when I was young, and hers as well.  For me it was normal to select fabric, color and design to have a unique garment.  But I longed to have what all the other kids were wearing.  Thanks, mom, for all of the talent, time and love that you put into my clothing.  And for teaching me how to sew. I think of you every time I sew hats for people. 

1 comment:

Lorna Aaronson said...

Wonderful description of a wonderful project that is a joy to all. So sorry I wasn't able to join you!