Home & Garden

Uniforms return to service

Jen Eskridge used to take requests at the U.S. air base in Daegu, Korea.

Fellow military wives would bring her their husbands' old uniforms, asking her to make, say, a purse of camouflaged camouflage.

She'd take their specifications, add her own twists, and produce a purse. Then somebody else would want the same thing.

"I'm glad I kept the pattern," Eskridge would say, pulling it out to re-create the purse in new material.

Now she's written a book with all her patterns, producing what she says is a unique contribution to repurposing mountains of out-of-commission military uniforms.

"It is a wonderful book for our McConnell Air Force Base military community," Eskridge said, "not to mention all the retired military that have stayed in aviation here in Wichita."

Eskridge's projects pair uniform material with colorful civilian material and span a range of skill sets, from making simple note cards and place mats to purses to a diaper bag over a weekend.

But you don't have to have a connection to the service to get into it. You can use any kind of material for the 23 projects, or pick up a uniform from a thrift shop, she says.

The book, "Deploy That Fabric" (C&T Publishing, $22.95), includes a section about the techniques used in the projects.

Eskridge will sign copies of the book from 2 to 4 p.m. today at Material Girls Quilt Shoppe, 535 W. Douglas. There is also a trunk show of the items Eskridge created for the book on display at the store.

After being on active duty for 11 years — a "volatile lifestyle," Eskridge says — her husband, Rob, is now in the Kansas Air National Guard. The Eskridges have three children and live in Andover.

Most military bases have a seamstress who can turn old uniforms into something new, Eskridge says.

Eskridge has a degree in apparel design and found herself the go-to person when her husband was serving in Korea. She is a seamstress, quilter and designer who has a business of quilting and sewing patterns, ReannaLily Designs (reannalilydesigns.com). She's also now the president of the Wichita chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild.

"A lot of military people have extra military uniforms," said Eskridge. If a uniform rips or fades, for example, it can't be used anymore.

"They're sitting on eight, 10 extra sets, especially if they retire — you have a ton of uniforms," Eskridge said of military personnel. And with the introduction of a pixelated pattern for desert ware, older camouflage is going to be retired, creating even more out-of-commission uniforms, she said.

She has made some of the projects, such as the stroller coverlet, so simple that children can help. So, even, can Dad. Eskridge recommends that a parent who is going to be deployed work on a project with their children before leaving. An ideal one is a quilt that is "kid-on-the-couch size."

"I don't know that kids really get it," Eskridge said of deployments. The quilts are helpful because they remind children of what Daddy wears. If Daddy can make the quilt with the kids before he leaves, the association is even closer. Then they can curl up in the quilt while watching TV or reading a book.

Repurposing the fabric is a great way to honor a service member, Eskridge says.

Eskridge took her book to Fort Hood recently and said she got a great response.

"They said, 'I'm so glad to have something to do with them,' because it's such a big part of your life."

At the book signing today, Eskridge will also have a couple more patterns available that are not in the book — one for a military mail bag and one for a cube purse.

Her favorite item from the book is a diaper bag with seven pockets — and more, if you use a flight suit.

"If you cut the uniform just right — flight suits have a lot of pockets" — you might get 15 pockets in a bag.

Her book includes projects for holiday items, too, such as a Christmas stocking and tree skirt. She remembers making a Christmas ornament once out of camouflage that looked really cool — until she put it on the tree. Then, just as camouflage will, it disappeared into the background.