Sewist Diana on Giving Back to Children in Her Community

At Quilt Festival in Houston we were lucky to meet Diana Klebenow, who does volunteer work to teach kids and adults needing life skills how to sew. We think it’s terrific and we admire her generosity, so we wanted share her story to help inspire other Bluprint community members to consider giving back to their communities as well. We enjoyed getting to learn more about Diana’s experiences and involvement in her community and know you will too!

Sewist Diana Gives Back
We understand you dedicate a great deal of your time to kids and other folks who are looking to gain more practical life skills. How did this come about?

I started “Dream Sowers” in September 2005 by offering to teach ladies & teens from my church to sew. Our first project was no-sew lap blankets for health care centers – Between September and December, we made 137 lab blankets & were able to donate to 3 different centers in our area for Christmas! The goal was and is to sow dreams as we teach others to sew.

Now, do you teach at a set place, like a school or a sewing shop, or do you travel different places?

I teach hand-sewing techniques to kids aged 5 – 11 at a local Child Care facility 1 afternoon a week. The sewing machine classes take place at the Brazoria County Dream Center in Clute, Texas; those classes are 1 time per week for 6 weeks in the Fall and again in the Spring. I am still working full time as a chemist, so I have to limit the time dedicated to classes.

Why sewing? Has it always been a passion, or is it because you feel it has so many good practical skills?

When I was in secondary school, I refused to take any “home-ec stuff” – since I was headed into a technical career in science. However, my first year in college convinced me that I needed to learn to sew, or go naked! I taught myself, so trial & error led me into better techniques and I found it wonderful to be able to make affordable, unique gifts for my friends on my very limited budget. The sharing sewing part is about the practical skills, but I work to share the freedom that comes with “making it yourself”.

Tell us more about your own history as someone who sews. How long have you been at it?

Over 40 years now.

What are your favorite things to sew?

Garments, home décor, anything and everything? Pillowcases (the tube kind), blankets, quilts – almost always for someone else; fleece berets, fabric gift bags, clothing – simple cuts, so that I do not get too frustrated with it. I have done costume support for our church Christmas plays and I have even made a cover for a large telescope, to protect it from the dew in our Gulf Coast star gazing events! I like the entire process, which includes planning, cutting, sewing, pressing…

Where do you draw your inspiration?

From other sewists. I am a member of the American Sewing Guild & love the ideas shared at meetings. I read voraciously, trolling for ideas in books & magazines. And I enjoy sewing shows (yes, I am a nerd about it). Most of all, I listen to my students and do my best to incorporate things they want to do.

We met you at the Quilt Festival in Houston, have you entered any of your quilts in competitions? Tell us a bit about your history with quilting.

In 2000, I entered 1 quilt in a very small quilt show in Galveston, in memory of those who have had cancer. In my case, it was for my dad & it was the hardest thing for me to sew that I have ever done. That was my only entry into a quilt show; I will do more in the future, as time permits. Quilting started when I was in college – the very simple quilts that are 2 large pieces of fabric with batting, tied with either yarn or embroidery floss. They made me smile as I made them for gifts. In 1995, I saw Eleanor Burns on TV with “Strip Quilting” and she made me think “I can do that!” I got to thank her in person at the Houston International Quilt show in 2012. I told her she inspired me to sew again & to try new things. Thank you, Eleanor! I love quilting – I just do not get enough time to do it.

Any other crafts that tickle your fancy?

I dabble in calligraphy and I can paint a wall with the best of ‘em. I am a beginner gardener, as well.

What kind of advice do you have for people who want to sew, but are afraid to start because maybe they don’t have a sewing machine, or they’re concerned it’s simply too advanced?

I would (and do) tell them – just TRY it. If it does not turn out like you imagined, you still learn something which makes the whole thing worth the effort. You can hand sew anything that you can sew with a machine, it just takes longer. And be sure to START WITH A SMALL PROJECT. The satisfaction that comes with finishing the project is inspirational, since it makes you want to try another project or tweak the last project to make it better…

Lastly, as someone who sews, do you prefer the term “sewer” or “sewist”?

I go for sewist, especially in the printed format. Sewer is too easily confused with waste water handling…

Thank you for your time Diana! Readers, if you’re seeking a new way to give back to your community, be sure to check out Bluprint Cares.

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