The History and Impact of 4-H

(Originally published in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #76.)


Since 4-H began more than 100 years ago, it has become the nation’s largest youth development organization. The 4-H idea is simple: help young people and their families gain the skills needed to be proactive forces in their communities and develop ideas for a more innovative economy.

In the late 1800s, adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural developments. But university researchers discovered young people were open to new thinking and would experiment with new ideas and share their experiences with adults.

The passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 created the Cooperative Extension System at USDA and nationalized 4-H. By 1924, 4-H clubs were formed and the clover emblem was adopted. The four H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.

Chances are, even if you were never a member, your life has been impacted by 4-H in many ways, especially if you love to sew.

For starters, if not for 4-H, we might never have known Nancy Zieman. Can you imagine a world without 30 years of Sewing with Nancy?


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The Art of Homemaking Exhibit

(Originally published in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #73.)


Every month, Rita Farro gets to write for SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW. She loves telling other people’s stories. The whole point of SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW magazine is, of course, to revel in this hobby we love . . . to inspire YOU to sew!

In this issue, Rita shares her own story, a remarkable exhibit, and a thoughtful look back at the homemakers who came before us.

Here’s the press release she sent in November 2019:


Homemaking: A mostly North American term to describe the creation and management of a home, especially as a pleasant place in which to live.

In 2002, Rita Farro turned her love of vintage bed linens into a book, Dress Your Dream Bed (Vintage Linen Inspirations for Today’s Elegant Bed). Rita is an avid collector of many things. Besides bed linens, she also loves (and collects) aprons, spooners, toast racks, embroidered linens, cookbooks, Singer Featherweight sewing machines, 7-Day-a-Week Dishtowels, napkin rings, quilts, cross-stitch samplers, and, well, you get the idea.

What began as a love of vintage bed linens became an obsession with homemaking arts. Through the end of January 2020, Farro will curate an exhibit of her personal collections at the beautiful library in Bettendorf, Iowa. She is calling her exhibit The Art of Homemaking. Her intention is to fill both floors of this stunning library building. Every showcase and/or blank wall space will be celebrating The Art of Homemaking.

Farro says, This exhibit is about what women have done, through generations, to make their home a welcoming haven for their family and friends. It’s about the love they put into setting the table or making the family beds. The traditions they create by using Grandma’s soup tureen on Christmas Eve or Aunt Rozella’s silver for Sunday dinners. Every homemaker hopes their personal family traditions will create lasting memories for their loved ones.

Homemaking is an art, and every woman has her own way of doing things. This exhibit features some ordinary and extraordinary handiwork of mostly anonymous homemakers.


So, you might be asking yourself, “how on earth did Rita come to own all those tubs full of vintage linens?”

To answer that question, she has to take you back to 1996.

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Susanne M. Jones – Fly Me to the Moon

SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW is always seeking insight into that moment of inspiration . . . when a woman (or a man) is compelled to create using needle and thread. Everybody takes a different path — and sewing means different things to different people. No two stories are the same. This month, we introduce you to Susanne M. Jones. After teaching elementary school in Maryland and Virginia for 25 years, she launched into a new career as a curator of museum quality quilt exhibits — and nobody could be more surprised than Susanne herself. We’ll let her tell her story . . . .

While I was looking forward to retirement and being free of the demands of full-time work, I knew I would miss my colleagues. My friend, Lisa Ellis, suggested that I consider quilting and join a guild where I would find like-minded, kind people. Since I always had some sort of needle and thread in my hands, it seemed a natural fit. So I started taking classes about a year before retirement. I totally intended to make very traditional baby quilts and lap quilts.

In 2012 I joined the Sacred Threads Committee and helped plan the 2013 show. Sacred Threads conveys the spirituality, healing, and inspirational message that transcends all people. All of the committee members were art quilters except me. I never considered myself an artist, although looking back I can see that color, texture, and composition have always been important to me and have given me pleasure, even during my teaching career. I loved doing bulletin boards and making educational games for the kids.

Seeing Our Stories Clearly with 20/20 Hindsight.

Seeing Our Stories Clearly with 20/20 Hindsight.

I joined Quilters Unlimited in Northern Virginia and became very involved in the Reston Chapter. I served as Program Chair, Vice President, and President. I became involved in the Quilt Alliance (again at Lisa’s suggestion) and made a piece for their TWENTY contest in 2013. It was my first art quilt, Seeing Our Stories Clearly with 20/20 Hindsight. I really had fun making it, and I was floored when it won a Judge’s Choice from Marianne Fons!

That’s Life

That’s Life

As we neared the start of the 2013 Sacred Threads Exhibition, the committee members were asked to make a small piece to hang in the gathering area outside of the exhibit. I made That’s Life, my second art quilt in a game format and it focused on the life transitions that I had gone through in the past 18 months: Retirement, the death of my mom and father-in-law, becoming empty nesters, moving to a condo, and two joint replacement surgeries. It was created using a jigsaw appliqué technique that I learned from Cheryl Almgren Taylor.

During Sacred Threads, I met Donna DeSoto, author, and curator of Inspired by the Beatles. She had a Beatles song that needed an artist, so I took on the challenge. My quilt was Rain, and it was published in Donna’s book and was part of the special exhibit at the 2014 Houston International Quilt Festival.

I was hooked.

Susanne M. Jones and husband Todd.

Susanne M. Jones and husband Todd.

In July of 2014, my husband Todd and I were watching a story about the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing and moonwalk. I commented that the 50th anniversary of that landing would make a cool collection of quilts. My ever-encouraging husband said that I should put out a call for such a collection. Not knowing what to expect, I put out the call. The call was shared via social media and went global. The Fly Me to the Moon (FMTTM) collection juried by Lisa Ellis and Cyndi Souder has 179 quilts by artists from eight countries. It premiered at the Houston International Quilt Festival in 2016, and the book is available on Amazon.

Fly Me to the Moon has blessed me with experiences I could never have imagined. NASA hung eight of the FMTTM quilts for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy. Space Center Houston had a special exhibit entitled Space for Art. Four of the artists from FMTTM were invited to exhibit their work in that show. I attended the gala opening and renewed my acquaintance with astronaut Nicole Stott who wrote the foreword for Fly Me to the Moon: An Art Quilt Journey. I also met Karen Nyberg, the first astronaut to quilt in space. In between those events I was able to visit Webster Presbyterian Church, the Astronaut Church, where Buzz Aldrin attended at the time of Apollo 11. He took communion on the moon in radio silence, making it the first food or drink consumed there. I got to hold that chalice in my hand. Who could have imagined? From July 10 – September 25, 2017, 61 of the FMTTM quilts were hanging in the sanctuary of Webster Presbyterian Church.

None of this would have been possible without the FMTTM collection, and none of it would have ever happened without my dear husband, Todd. While I may be the CEO of Susanne Miller Jones, LLC, Todd is the CEE — Chief of Everything Else. A retired engineer, he has become a wonderful textile photographer and has taken all of the photos for Fly Me To The Moon. At any exhibit, he is just as excited as I am about the quilts and the artists.

Fly Me To The Moon started me on quite a journey. I now have three calls out there. FMTTM was followed by HERstory: A Celebration of Strong Women. There are 107 art quilts by artists from seven countries in that collection. Fifty-two of the HERstory quilts are premiering at the 2017 International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas in November.

My most recent call for entries was OURstory: Human Rights Stories in Fabric, telling the stories of disenfranchised people and their fights for equal rights. All groups and issues were welcomed in this collection. Artists were invited to make a 25” x 40” quilt about any discrimination or violation of human rights.

When people ask how I decided to start my own business, I say I didn’t mean to do it. But as the calls kept coming and exhibitions needed to be shipped and written about, a business was needed to corral it all. Every step along this journey has been accompanied by huge learning curves. Building a business is no exception. Even though making money would be great, my mission statement has much more to do with the human components.

My goal is to highlight the work of the artists who have trusted me with their work. When I’m putting together an exhibition, I find myself wearing the hats of artist, cheerleader, curator, author, and marketer. Some weeks I only work to spread the call for entries. Facebook has been a wonderful tool for that. As each call goes out, I start a SECRET Facebook page for the artists. It is a place where the artists get to know each other, run ideas by each other and share progress on their pieces. I lurk in the background and watch the art happen. Other weeks, I’m editing books, looking for venues or promoting the exhibits. Whatever I do, only one thing is on my mind: Make the artists and their work shine!

Although I did not think it was possible, I am busier now than I was when I was working full-time. It often feels like there are not enough hours in the day. It is a wonderful thing to feel like the work you do is making a difference. My life verse is, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) My church, Floris United Methodist Church, in Herndon, VA (which is where Sacred Threads holds its bi-annual exhibit) has a partnership with the Child Rescue Center in Sierra Leone. Several times a year we send a mission team to work with the children, who are in residence there. The children live in family units with an “auntie” in charge of each family home. Last year I was selected to go on the Drama, Music and Art team which we named CREATE. My assignment was to teach Bible stories to the younger children. I was introduced to the aunties as a quilter, and their eyes lit up.

Imagine my surprise when they asked me to fix their sewing machines. They were treadle machines! I emailed Todd, asking him to research the manuals for these Butterfly treadles. Eventually, we were able to get the machines in working order and I taught basic maintenance: How to change a needle, how to change the tension, how to wind and insert a bobbin, and how to thread the machine. The kids brought in stacks of mending. Recently they posted a photo of one of those kids getting a sewing award!

What is most inspiring about Susanne’s story is how open she was to a new chapter in her life. She brought her teaching experience, combined it with her love of sewing and crafting, then dove, head first, into the world of art quilt exhibitions. She met new people, experimented with new techniques, saw a need, then filled it. Her natural ability as a problem solver combined with her creative side to create something beyond her wildest retirement dreams.

Gail Yellen – Part II


Gail dressing mannequins at the Connecticut Historical Society.

Gail dressing mannequins at the Connecticut Historical Society.

Gail Yellen of Gail Patrice Design was one of the first people to be interviewed for SCHMETZ Inspired To Sew magazine ( Since that time, Gail has established her reputation as a most knowledgeable, entertaining speaker and her workshops and classes are among the hottest tickets on the sewing circuit.

When she began teaching sewing classes, Gail’s initial focus was on garment embellishment. She struck a chord with that topic, and soon Gail was receiving invitations from stores and guilds all across the country.

The popularity of that topic was the inspiration for her first self-published book, It’s All About Embellishment.  Gail has been featured at numerous American Sewing Guild chapter events, from Boston to California, Florida to Texas and lots of places in-between.

Gail says, “I’ve been a member of the American Sewing Guild for 15 years and it’s been a big gift in my life. Because I’ve presented to so many Chapters across the country, when I attend the Annual National Conference, it’s like a big cross-country reunion.  The men (yes there are a few!) and women range in sewing skills from novice to couture and everyone is welcoming, encouraging and loves to share their passion for sewing. At local Neighborhood Group meetings, if someone has a question or sewing dilemma, there’s always a member who can give you the solution. There are so many talented sewists, it is inspiring to see their creations.  I can’t say enough good things about ASG!”

Stunning serger stitches from Gail Yellen that you can do too!

Stunning serger stitches that you can do too!

Her first experience teaching at the ASG National Conference in Atlanta, GA was very stressful.  The day before the conference, Maria Trevino called from ASG Headquarters. An instructor had an emergency and had to bow out at the last minute. Maria asked Gail to present a serger workshop to fill in for the sold out class.  She put 25 Cosmetic Serger-y kits together in one afternoon and got on the road the next day. It was a big hit!

In September 2015, she was in Sacramento, California for the Gold County Chapter of the ASG Fall Event and Workshop. Their report was “Gail Yellen delighted members with a hands on Serger-y 101 Workshop.  This workshop gave members the opportunity to learn new skills to embellish projects using their sergers.  The following day members enjoyed a delicious luncheon and listened as Gail continued to provide more ideas with her Trunk Show and Lecture, I Know How to Do It, but Where Do I Put It?

Collage It! Gail Yellen in the classroom.

Collage It! Gail in the classroom.

The downside of being such a popular speaker is that her busy travel schedule contributed to a diagnosis of pneumonia AND a severe case of laryngitis.

Consumer sewing shows quickly became a big part of Gail’s annual schedule.  She was invited to teach at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expos in Virginia, Florida, Georgia, and Minnesota.  She also was a featured speaker at the Sewing & Stitchery Expo in Puyallup, Washington.  In 2013, Gail started teaching at the American Sewing Expo in Novi, Michigan.

Janet Pray, Founder of American Sewing Expo, says, “Gail came to teach at ASE just a few short years ago and rose in popularity immediately. Her expertise using the serger is unsurpassed. Gail is a superior teacher with a friendly no-stress approach that makes her classes fun and relaxing as well as highly educational. It doesn’t get any better than that!  This year, Gail taught three of her excellent serger classes and they SOLD OUT early!”

Gail received The 2015 Teacher of the Year Award from the American Sewing Expo.  On her Facebook page, Gail writes, “Receiving the 2015 Teacher of the Year Award at the American Sewing Expo was a huge unexpected honor. Thank you to everyone for your good wishes and messages. (And thank you to everyone who voted for me!) Janet Pray, Jessica Johnson, Brenda Rogerson and the whole ASE staff work all year to make this event special and their efforts are much appreciated.”

At some point in her sewing teacher/traveling journey — Gail Yellen became the new SERGER GURU.  At every store, every guild event, every consumer workshop — the most frequent questions were about sergers.  Many women loved their sergers, but really didn’t understand the basics of this fabulous little machine.  Often, they lived in fear of having to re-thread their serger.  Gail’s serger classes gained so much popularity and national exposure, she was approached by F&W Publishing and asked to write a book about sergers.

Serger Essentials by Gail YellenGail wrote Serger Essentials — Master the Basics and Beyond!  Serger Essentials is targeted to all levels of serger owners.  What sets it apart from other serger books is that Gail discusses how careful handling of the fabric while stitching is just as important as getting the machine settings correct.   She has developed clear, understandable explanations of the various serger components and how they affect a stitch.

It’s All About Embellishment, Gail’s first book, was self-published.  Her second book, Serger Essentials, was published by the largest publisher in the sewing industry.  When asked which method she preferred, Gail laughed and said, “The work is the same.  Writing a book is like giving birth to a baby.  The biggest difference is that when you self-publish, you are calling all the shots.  But you are also writing all the checks!  Working with a publisher, I had the benefit of F&W’s professional staff of editors and photographers.  And THEY write the checks.  It is a much different process but I love both books, and F&W has been wonderful to work with.  They saw my vision, and I am excited about partnering with them to market Serger Essentials.”

To complement Serger Essentials, Gail also launched Serger Tip Clips through her web site  A new Serger Tip Clip will go up on the website once a week.  Gail understands how much easier it is to learn things by SEEING them demonstrated.  And in the digital world we live in, she is excited about taking advantage of this new learning element.  The videos will take one tip or technique and break it down in less than 5 minutes.

Gail Yellen never imagined this career happening.  Becoming a teacher and author wasn’t something she had planned for herself.  She says, “Meeting sewing enthusiasts and sharing the creative process is what inspires me. Although it wasn’t exactly accidental, my sewing career feels like a wonderful surprise.   It is a special part of my life and I feel very fortunate to be a member of the sewing community.”