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Love in every kissing pillow stitch

Embroiderers Guild seeks new members, will host open house to meet those interested in needle art

Posted: May 16, 2009 9:08 p.m.
Updated: May 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Terry Ramsey, left, Amy Wolfson and Trudie Russell work together to make the kissing pillows which will later be sent over to American soldiers serving overseas.

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Stitching keepsakes filled with care is a specialty for the members of the Santa Clarita Chapter of The Embroiderers Guild of America and their efforts are taking a patriotic turn.

Since 2007, the chapter has been helping stitch together "Kissing Pillows" - a project started by the guild in 2005 geared to help comfort the children and loved ones of American soldiers departing for service in the United States military.

The pillows are designed to be kissed by soldiers and their family members, so they can give the love-filled mementos to each other to hold onto during times of separation.

Embroidered with the words, "I Love You" on the top of each four-inch, lightly-stuffed pillow, soldiers leaving for service overseas and the families they leave behind, can each hold the kisses of their loved ones until their reunion back home.

"This is a very touching idea," said Amy Wolfson, a member of the Santa Clarita Chapter and an active stitcher of the pillows for the past three years. "It's a way for families to feel connected and hold on to something filled with love."

The chapter, established in the Santa Clarita Valley in 1994, is a division of the Embroiderers Guild of America, a national nonprofit educational organization offering study and preservation of the heritage and art of embroidery in America since 1958.

"It's wonderful to be able to do something we enjoy and know that it is helping others," said chapter member Barbara Haire. "It connects those who stitch the pillows, as well as those we are stitching them for."

Haire, a past chapter president, isn't the only member who feels this connection.

"We are finding the joy and purpose in what we do," said member Trudie Russell, who finishes each pillow by stitching the backing, stuffing and bagging the items to prepare them for shipment. "These pillows fulfill many needs, not only to be creative but also to give of yourself."

The idea for the pillows originated in 2005 from the guild's Yellow Rose Chapter, located in Houston, Texas.

The Yellow Rose Chapter's Community Outreach Chairman Geraldine Trappey, started the production for the pillows, which were originally intended for the children of the soldiers going overseas. As word spread about the pillows being made, the chapter discovered children were not the only ones in need of comfort while separated from a loved one.

Soon, the spouses and sweethearts of departed troops wanted kissed pillows and soldiers wanted pillows from loved ones as well.

The response overwhelmed the Yellow Rose Chapter in their first year of production, leading the group to open the outreach experience to all other chapters throughout the country in 2006. The Santa Clarita Chapter was ready to stitch their support right away.

"There are lots of pillows being made and shipped out because they are inexpensive and so easy to make," said Terry Ramsey, the Santa Clarita Chapter's 1994 founding president. The pillows cost a dollar or less to make and each one consists of a simple stitch that takes about two hours for a stitcher to complete. Each pillow must be stitched according to a set guideline, without being altered or enhanced, so that one pillow does not differ stylistically from another.

"Children may fight if the pillows are too different," said Haire. "We want each person receiving one to feel that it's not about the pillow, it's about the person kissing it."

The small pillows follow a stitching pattern which includes the embroidery of a heart with the words, "I Love You" along with two stars embroidered with red, white and blue colored threads. The pillows are put into small, plastic bags along with a special note from the guild explaining the purpose for the pillow and expressing gratitude from the specific chapter who sent it to the recipient, for the services being provided to the country. After the pillows are made, they are sent to Acton where Ramsey's granddaughter's Girl Scout troop helps sort and place orders together to send to soldiers and their families. The only way the pillows are individualized per family member is by the different camouflage or patriotic patterned fabric chosen for the backing of the pillow. From American flag to army patterns, the nature of each backing must symbolize the purpose for which the pillows are made.

"I love doing this," said Russell of the project she and her fellow chapter stitchers make together. "I do it in my spare time and I get a lot of practice on my stitching, too."

The chapter has made a total of 75 pillows and has recently shipped to troops and the families of troops doing service in the Middle East. The chapter hears of many stories of how their pillows have helped soldiers and their families. Wolfson remembers hearing that some children sleep and pray with their pillows, holding onto them through the night to feel closer to their family member overseas.

Another story the chapter knows of is about a soldier who didn't make it home from service. After being killed in battle, the soldier was found and under his helmet was the kissing pillow he had been sent from his family waiting for him at home.

"This story was so touching," said Wolfson. "It really made the purpose of our work stronger."

The members of the local chapter are volunteering to make the pillows, in addition to holding regular meetings, workshops, lectures and stitch-in sessions together. However, since 1994 when the chapter opened with 35 members, the club has dwindled to 21 members and is in need of new people with an interest in the club. Aside from special seminars and lectures given by well-known artists in the embroidery world, the club offers something else that members find even more special.

"This is a network of friends," said Russell who has been a member since 2002. "I joined the club to get away from daily stresses in my life and realized a whole new life right here."

The men and women of the chapter meet monthly at Golden Valley High School to discuss club business and of course, stitch together.

"We have a lot of fun," said Haire of the meetings with the chapter. "We are being creative with people who have become real friends. In this hard economic time, it's really special to have a network of friends to come together with."

New membership is needed for the chapter to stay afloat and community members are invited by the chapter to sample any meeting and give their creative sides a chance at stitching. From the beginner to the professional, the chapter will welcome anyone with an interest in needlepoint.

"We can help newcomers to learn, enhance their skills and try something new and different in a fun way," said Ramsey of encouraging new members to join the chapter.

The chapter is hosting an open house for prospective and established members on June 18 at Golden Valley High School for those in the community who want to try something new and fun.

"I don't have time to volunteer," said Wolfson of her long-standing membership with the club since its inception in 1994. "I can spend my time volunteering in this way. I can take the work anywhere and it's something I enjoy doing, while helping people in so many ways."

"I am constantly inspired by what we do as a team here," said Russell of her experiences with fellow members.

Membership fees are $55 per year, which cover the chapter's monthly meetings held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. every third Thursday of the month - except December. The next meeting will be held May 21.

The dues also include the EGA national magazine "Needle Arts" quarterly and the chapter newsletter "Needles and Friends" monthly, to give members new ideas, guidelines and projects. Becoming a member will enable the chapter to continue making the kissing pillows for American soldiers and their families and enable the chapter to continue various outreach projects as well as other fun, creative and helpful activities.

"These little pillows may seem like a small thing," said Wolfson, "But what they carry inside of them is anything but that."

For more information on how to become a member of the Santa Clarita Chapter of Embroiderers Guild of America and for more information on the Kissing Pillows visit www.scega.org.

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