Stephanie Stiles, 4-H Program Assistant for Essex County, has been teaching sewing in Essex County for 17 years. What was once the Cooperative Extension’s conference room is now the 4-H club’s sewing room. Stiles, who is originally from Los Angeles, Calif., had never heard of 4-H until she moved to Essex. Her grandmother taught her how to sew, when she would come to Essex for the summer. Stiles, at nine years old started making doll clothes, which graduated to her prom and wedding dresses. Stiles quickly proclaimed she does not sew for others, and jokingly said, “Sewing is something I like to do, and I don’t want to grow to hate it.”
The club we know today started as a summer two-week intensive sewing camp, which ended with a fashion show. Even though the students completed the camp with an end product, she felt the volunteers were too hands-on and did much of the work. Stiles said, “The volunteers took care of the problems; the students did not learn how to fix glitches with the machines or a pattern or problem solve. ” Stiles decided she would change the class format and transition it to year-round. And her formula is working—she has two sewing clubs that meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a waiting list for both. Stiles can accept a maximum of seven students aged nine years old and up, this number allows her to provide individual attention and ensure safety. “Students must be able to reach the foot pedal and sit in the chairs comfortably,” said Stiles. Classes consist of home schooled, private and public school students. Classes are coed, in fact, she had a class of all boys at one time.