‘It’s a labor of love’

The Holly Berries are a local group of sewing enthusiasts who want to spread the word about the joys of the needle arts.

Holly Berries member Regina Hyatt shows off her first completed smocking project, a dress for her granddaughter, at the groups latest meeting at the Burlington County Library.

The Holly Berries are on a mission to share their knowledge and enthusiasm about the art of sewing with like-minded members of the community. The group is a local chapter of the national nonprofit organization Smocking Arts Guild of America, and hold meetings at the Burlington County Library, where members have a chance to show off their current projects and share patterns and ideas with fellow sewers.

According to chapter president Karin Eveland, the community the Holly Berries have found in the group extends past the meetings.

“The whole point of being in a group like this is that we get together independently of meetings and share knowledge,’ said Eveland.

SAGA’s website describes smocking as “a centuries-old form of needlework consisting of surface embroidery stitches worked over gathered fabric.” The smocking stitches serve a dual purpose, the site’s description goes on to say, first as a decorative element and second as a functioning feature of a garment, holding each pleat in place, while allowing elasticity of the gathered area.

“Our goal is to foster needle arts,” said Kim Gimblette, vice president of membership for SAGA and a member of the Holly Berries chapter.

According to Gimblette, in addition to the Holly Berries’ regular meetings, the wider guild offers online classes and holds regional conventions each year.

“We have nationally and internationally known teachers come to the conventions and teach us. The chapters can have teachers come to our workshops and teach a class, there’s so much involved,” said Gimblette.

The Holly Berries have been putting their sewing skills to good use with SAGA’s Wee Care program. Members sew and smock small gowns and donate them to hospitals to clothe premature babies and babies who die at birth or shortly after. The gowns cover a lot of the medical equipment and allow grieving parents to see their child in a more natural state.

The group’s goal of fostering needle arts largely comes down to spreading the word and trying to drum up interest in people young and old. According to Gimblette, this is often easier said than done.

“A lot of people don’t want to be bothered taking the time to do needle arts, especially the younger generation. They want it fast, they want it now and unless you’re into fashion or the fabric industry, you might not necessarily have that desire to learn,” said Gimblette.

“We don’t have the necessity today. We’ve become passionate about it but it’s not a necessity,” said Eveland.

Regina Hyatt is one of the latest additions to the Holly Berries. Although she has been sewing since she was young, she is new to smocking. She has a new granddaughter she has been sewing clothes for and brought in a dress she made, her first completed smocking project, to show at the group’s latest meeting.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Hyatt. “A lot of love because it’s a lot of handwork.”

For more information on SAGA and the Holly Berries, check out the SAGA website at smocking.org and find the Holly Berries under the Chapters icon. The group also has a blog page at hollyberriessaga.blogspot.com.