BY GRETCHEN MURRAY
Special to the Record-Eagle
— TRAVERSE CITY — Keeping up with the newest technology is almost a must in today’s fast-paced world. So is a firm grasp of the basics, Mary Ann Hendricks believes.
Hendricks and Pamela Smith, both sewing instructors at the Grow Benzie sewing studio in Benzonia, recently saw to it that 13 sixth graders at Platte River Elementary School received eight weeks of lessons in skills as basic as sewing on a button or mending a rip.
Grow Benzie is a five-year old community nonprofit farmstead located on 3.7 acres along M-115 that is dedicated to enriching the lives of Benzie County residents by fostering self-reliance through education in agriculture, nutrition, job training and life skills.
“We decided to go to the schools and offer to teach some hand sewing; it’s a lost art,” said Hendricks, who has sewn since she learned the skill through 4-H as a child.
“Initially, 13 students signed up for the basic sewing class where they learned to thread a needle and sew a straight stitch,” she said. “Pam and I designed little sewing kits they could work with, and they were excited to make their own hand-stitched cell phone cover.”
Classes took place at the school, as well as at the Grow Benzie facility, where students were introduced to machine sewing and chose a more involved project such as a skirt or shorts.
“We had boys interested in the lessons, too, after we explained that many clothing designers are men,” Hendricks said. “The boys could choose to make lounge pants for their projects.”
Hendricks said the winter flu season took a toll on class attendance and only eight students, including one boy, received sewing certificates in February for successfully completing the class.
During the certificate presentation students were surprised to learn that Traverse City businessman Jack Yezbak was willing to donate a refurbished sewing machine for each of them, with the provision they complete 20 hours of volunteer work at Grow Benzie prior to receiving their machines.
Yezbak has been repairing older-model sewing machines through his home business since he retired.
“I was a dental lab prosthetics technician in the Coast Guard, and I needed something to keep my hands busy doing the close, detailed work I was used to,” Yezbak said.
Yezbak, who says his wife is an accomplished quilter, knows the machines will be put to good use.
“The students can express themselves artistically or use them to make gifts. It gives them a creative avenue,” he said. “Mary Ann tells me that she sees the smiles on their faces as the stitches come out on the fabrics, and having that feedback makes it all worthwhile.”
Hendricks hopes the lessons will provide students a life-long resource and empower them to use their newly gained knowledge to get ahead.
“If they realize that they can recycle some of their old clothes, design some new ones or come up with a way to make some money, I’m happy,” she said.