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Area women sewing up a problem
Tiny Stitches works to clothe newborn babies
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Gina Lee knits a blanket on April 18 for Tiny Stitches at Lakewood Baptist Church. All items made by members of Tiny Stitches go to newborns in need in the north Georgia area. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Tiny Stitches

What: Crochet, knitting, sewing organization that makes items for newborns in need

When: The third Saturday of each month

Where: Lakewood Baptist Church.  2235 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville

More info: www.tinystitches.org

One day in the 1990s, a nurse at a Georgia hospital saw a mother leaving with her baby. Instead of the newborn wearing a hat and onesie and wrapped in a blanket for the journey home, the child was covered with a towel.

In that moment, the nurse knew she had to act. Her action led to the birth of Tiny Stitches.

Established in 1996 by five women, the nonprofit’s mission is to provide a complete outfit of clothing or a layette for newborns in need. And many women have volunteered their sewing, crocheting and knitting skills to the cause, feeling compelled to provide newborns with basic needs some mothers can’t provide. It also gives their hobby a bigger purpose.

“A lot of the women here are retired but enjoy crochet and knit, but eventually you’re going to run out of relatives to make things for,” Linda Romero of Gainesville said.

The only drawback is the members do not see the direct benefits of their contributions. It is one thing members hope to change.

“Hopefully, we will be able to contact (Northeast Georgia Medical Center) directly and either get someone to come out and talk to us or talk to Kathey (Cassano) and I so we can pass (the data) on” to the group, said Judy Kern, one of the group’s co-leaders.

In the meantime, the group continues its mission.

“People hear it and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know how to crochet,’” Romero said. “Well, I didn’t either. (But) no matter what, you’re proud of what you’re doing.”

Starting the stitch

Since its founding, Tiny Stitches has grown throughout North Georgia with seven groups making items for the layettes. And this year, the Gainesville group is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

“I’m proud of the work. I think we all are,” said Romero, who has been a member for a year.

In fact, some former members have returned for the 10th anniversary to resume their previous work.

In the past 10 years, the group has grown from nine to 22 members. In the past 5 years, the Gainesville group has compiled 7,321 items, Kern said. In a 10-year time, the number reaches about 15,000 items, which include handsewn changing pads, receiving blankets, sleep gowns, hats and quilts.

The unique twist is the group’s members are not required to know how to sew, knit or crochet before joining.

“People (who) want to get involved can do things like put snaps on the bags, wash the items and more,” Kern said. “You don’t have to know how to knit or sew to be involved.

“People (who) can crochet do that,” she continued. “People (who) can sew make the sewn items.”

Almost as surprising is some members joined the Tiny Stitches group as a beginning knitter or crocheter. In fact, Kern and her co-leader Cassano met at an instructional class at North Hall Technical Center in Gainesville. And their story is not the first of its kind.

Romero wanted to learn how to crochet. She discovered a group in North Hall and started attending. During one meeting, someone mentioned Tiny Stitches.

“I thought ‘Oh my gosh, not only can I learn how, but I can donate to something good,” said Romero.

The activity has led to new friendships for Romero. She and a group of seven or eight women will get together every Thursday at North Hall Technical Center to talk and work on their Tiny Stitches items.

“There’s just a sense of camaraderie,” Romero said.

This outside meeting helps the women spread the word about Tiny Stitches.

“People will come up to us in Panera Bread and ask what we’re doing,” Romero said. “And we will tell them about Tiny Stitches.”

Meeting once a month

During its regularly scheduled meeting on the third Saturday, the Tiny Stitches group in Gainesville spends four hours working on projects. Most members spend the afternoon with yarn, needles and hooks, but they are free to bring in sewing machines if they prefer.

“If we have someone that wants to learn how to make a sewn item, we will have a workshop where everybody brings their machines or their sergers and we will teach them,” Kern said.

Members are not required to provide their own yarn or fabrics, but may bring their preferred medium. Tiny Stitches also receives donated materials.

“We have large companies like Garan that will donate fabric by the tons to us, others donate yarn, and it is then distributed to us,” Kern said. “However, sometimes we run short and will buy our own.”

Tiny Stitches in Gainesville also receives donations from family members, former members and even the families of members who have died.

“Each month, people bring in their items that they’ve made over the past month,” Kern said.

Some members bring in two or three larger items, such as quilts and blankets. Others bring in hundreds of booties, hats, socks and tote bags.

Volunteers with Tiny Stitches are not required to produce a specific number of items each month, especially since some pieces are small while others take a significant amount of time.

“Some months we will not have anything turned in, and the next month people will bring in stacks and stacks of items,” Kern said.

Group veterans advise and encourage its newest members to start small. It is suggested beginners start with simpler yarn crafts, such as a burial blanket. It is given to a family who experiences an infant death, regardless of need.

Romero said she has worked on hats and smaller things because she can make them quickly.

Supplying hospitals

For January, March and April, the Tiny Stitches women in the Gainesville organization have supplied more than 400 items to Tiny Stitches. The items are taken to an Atlanta warehouse, where volunteers and members will pack the layettes and prepare them for hospitals all across North Georgia, including Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

“We will contact (the hospitals) and ask how many they need for the upcoming month,” Tiny Stitches president Susan Brunton said. “Sometimes they will request quite a few, and other times they won’t ask for any at all.”

“Northeast Georgia Medical Center might request four each month,” she continued. “Other months they don’t ask for any. Each year they probably get around 40 layettes.”

Hospitals distribute layettes based on need. They identify mothers who may need a layette and provides her with one. They are packaged in a large, reusable tote bag made by volunteers and contains all of the basic newborn necessities. The packages have bibs, shirts, pajamas, blankets, booties, socks and hats. All items are sewn, crocheted or knitted.

All distributed items meet distinct specifications to fit newborns. Tiny Stitches distributes specifications along with approved patterns to take the guesswork out of creating the items.

“Nurses and social workers are really the ones who tell us where the need is,” Kern said. “Some items, they get right away, like the changing pads. Others are seasonal, like sweaters and fleece sleep sacks.”

And while the need is great, the investment is worth it.

“I love what I do here,” Romero said.

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