SALINA — Linda Brown was starting her first year as the family and consumer sciences teacher at Salina Central High School in the fall of 2008, and her initial aim was to bring some focus to the subject that once went by the name home economics.
After church one Sunday in September, she was approached by longtime friend Andra Hancock.
Hancock had just taken to heart a sermon extolling the virtues of community volunteerism and sharing one's talents. Hancock's happened to be in quilting.
"I love fabric, I love teenagers," Hancock said. "I asked her if she needed any help. She said, 'When can you start?' "
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Brown was well aware of Hancock's artistry as a quilter.
"I knew she had a good background in quilting," Brown said. "I don't. My expertise in sewing is mainly clothing construction."
But making a dress or a blouse, which some students wanted to do, requires sewing skills that were above their abilities, some of whom hadn't so much as threaded a needle.
Brown figured the basic straight-line stitching used in quilting would provide a sound foundation for more elaborate projects.
On her first visit to class, Hancock brought along a few of her quilts.
"At that point," Brown said, "the girls in the class had picked what projects they were going to work on, and every single one switched to quilting."
At the end of the fall semester class, the students displayed their finished quilts in the cafeteria.
"That generated some interest," Brown said.
Enrollment in the elective course doubled.
One recent morning, 17 students either huddled over wooden tables, cutting strips of fabric with rotary cutters — think pizza cutters, but dangerously sharper — or feeding material into one of about a dozen sewing machines.
Hancock and Brown were in constant motion, demonstrating techniques, providing advice, offering a little criticism and much encouragement.
Meagan Bean was among students who was exposed to sewing in middle school.
"I made a pillow in eighth grade," Bean said, adding that she never continued with sewing. "I like to sew. I miss sewing."
Having fun seemed to be a common thread among the students.
"I was looking for a fun elective," said Darcie LeBonte, a sophomore who is taking the class for a second time.
Like most of her fellow students, LeBonte didn't learn to sew from her mother.
"My mom knows how to sew, but she doesn't have enough time."
That is a lament shared by Hancock, who at one time feared the knowledge of quilting was beginning to unravel as fewer women took needle in hand.
Fortunately, enough concerned people helped Brown and Hancock with their efforts.
Members of the Silver Needles Quilt Guild donated sewing machines, and other individuals and businesses came through with fabric and other supplies.
"They wanted these girls to (have) a love of fabric," Hancock said of the donors.
That is also Hancock's mission, which is why she spends from three to five days a week, sometimes twice a day, at the school. In the afternoon, she leads a sewing club, comprising graduates of the sewing class.
Hancock said she fell for fabric at an early age.
"I've been sewing since second grade," she said.
It was not her mother who offered instruction.
"My mom was a cook" and not someone who sewed, Hancock said.
Still, Hancock said she was drawn to fabric like an addiction.
"I'd go to her rag bag and get fabric to make doll clothes," she said. "I sewed them by hand. It was not done well."
But over the years she learned, and now has a quilt business, Dove Works. She tells the students that sewing could be their meal ticket.
"It could give them a career," she said.