September is National Sewing Month

September is National Sewing Month!  “Sew” it “seams” we should take time to honor the history of sewing and celebrate those who enjoy this art form or craft.  National Sewing Month was first celebrated in 1982 after President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation “in recognition of the importance of home sewing to our Nation.” 

While sewing might imply the use of a sewing machine, it encompasses the many ways of stitching with thread and needle—garments, home décor, embroidery, needlepoint, cross-stitch, quilting, and all other forms of drawing a thread and needle through a medium. Sewing is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people from all walks of life throughout the world.

The art of sewing dates back to 25,000 B.C.E. when sewing was used to make clothing and shelter. Early materials consisted mostly of hides from animals and plant leaves. Thin strips of animal hide or long fibers drawn from plants made the first threads with bone and ivory being the first forms of needles.  Thomas Saint is credited with the invention of the sewing machine in 1750 followed by Isaac Singer’s prototype in 1851 that was to become the basis for the mechanization of sewing and the standard for the modern sewing machines we have today.  Prior to the 19th century, sewing was done by hand which allowed for perfecting skills as well as developing techniques for creative and decorative stitching.

Sewing has long been a favorite hobby of mine beginning with creations made with fabric scraps, thread, and needle for my dolls.  After my great-grandmother taught me to use her treadle machine, I turned out creations in mass.  As a 4-H member I enjoyed learning to use my mother’s electric machine and a pattern to fashion clothing for myself.  Each year was a new project with new skills.  That love of creating with fabric and a desire to understand fibers and fabrics led to my eventual college major.  While I never worked in the textile industry as I once envisioned, the skills and knowledge have given me a hobby and creative outlet that I still enjoy today.  And by joining with friends in guilds, I have learned and enjoyed many other forms of stitchery that have furthered by love of sewing. 

My deep love of thread and needle did not take root in my children; however, they were each fascinated enough to learn the skill of sewing with a machine to sufficiently take care of themselves.  Now I am sewing with my grandchildren who are intrigued with the creative process as they learn new skills.

While we may recognize the creative form of self-expression that sewing provides in the month of September, it is enjoyed all year.  During this month, there is a long list of retailers, bloggers, organizations, and others that promote “sewing” in an attempt to renew interest, share ideas, inspire, and teach.  If one was ever inclined to pick up thread and needle and try some form of sewing, the time to start is now. Creating quilts, clothing and other masterpieces not only develop new skills, but personal satisfaction, too. Sewing is a pleasurable activity to enjoy solo or with friends.  Happy sewing!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Yeast Bread Baking – A Kitchen Science ‘Drama’

Does anything in the world ever smell quite so good as a just-baked loaf of bread? If you’ve never made yeast bread before, an adventure awaits!  And prepare yourself for one of the great “dramas” of kitchen science!

Every ‘drama’ is made up of various parts—cast, script, and various acts.  Bread baking is no exception. The cast of ingredients that go into a loaf of bread are simple—flour, yeast, liquid, sweetener (sugar), salt, and fat. Other ingredients can be added for flavor, texture, and nutritional value.  It is the nature of the ingredients and the way they are combined that create “drama!”

Meet the DRAMA Cast–Ingredients

Flour.  In most recipes, the flour used is either all-purpose flour or bread flour.  Both flours, derived from wheat, contain two proteins important to yeast breads—glutenin and gliadin.  When combined with liquid and manipulated, these proteins produced gluten, an elastic web that traps the gas released by the yeast.    All-purpose flours are a blend of hard and soft wheat in proportions to give satisfactory results for most baking, including bread.  Bread flour contains more hard wheat that soft wheat; with slightly more protein that all-purpose flour, bread flour is ideal for hearty breads because it allows for more structure.  Because the blend of hard and soft wheat used in all-purpose or bread flour may vary by manufacturer and flour gains or loses moisture depending on the weather or storage, most yeast bread recipes call for an approximate measure of flour rather than an exact amount.   Other flours or grains can be used in combination with all-purpose or bread flour to create breads with different textures, flavors, and nutrient value.

Want to see gluten and how it works? Science: What is Gluten? Here’s How to See and Feel Gluten by America’s Test Kitchen will answer those questions.

Gluten is formed when flour and water are combined.  Proteins in the flour react with the liquid to form gluten.  Beating and kneading the dough develops the gluten. 

Yeast.  Yeast is a living organism (actually a single-celled fungus).  Yeast ‘drama’ happens when the yeast granules awake in warm water, search out food (sugar), break it down, become active and release carbon dioxide—a gas!  It is the gas, trapped within the elastic web of gluten strands which cause dough to rise. 

To see yeast work, try this Scientific American experiment: Yeast Alive! Watch Yeast Live and Breathe.

Yeast is particular about temperature to thrive; lukewarm temperatures of 105-115 degrees F are perfect. It works slowly in cooler temperatures and dies when the temperature is too hot.

Yeast is available most commonly in the dry form as active dry or instant/quick-rise/fast-rise granules.  Compressed or cake yeast is less common and requires refrigeration.  Active or compressed yeast must be awakened prior to use in warm water (proofing).  Instant yeast is a modern variety which does not need to be proofed in the same way that active yeast does; it can be blended directly with the other dry ingredients.  However, there is no harm in proofing instant yeast.

Liquid.  Water and milk are the typical liquids used in making yeast bread.  Juice and vegetable water can also be used. The kind of liquid used plays a role in the bread’s outcome:  bread made with water has a crusty top and chewy texture; milk slightly weakens the gluten strands creating a bread with more tenderness and browner crust.   Even the kind of water—hard, soft, chlorinated—will bring about different characteristics.  Yeast is reluctant to dissolve in milk so is best dissolved in water.

An important step in making yeast bread is combining the flour and liquid in just the right proportion to yield a good dough.  Too much liquid weakens the gluten and too little makes the gluten tough so that it does not stretch sufficiently. 

Sweeteners/sugar and Salt.  Sweeteners, such as sugar or honey, and salt add flavor.  Salt also slows yeast growth but is not necessary to make bread.  Sugar furnishes food for the yeast.  Yeast can feed on the natural sugars in the flour by breaking down the carbohydrates but the break down takes time.  Since sugar or another sweetener is a readily available food, it speeds up the growth and rising action.  Sweeteners also add tenderness, moisture, and browning.

Fat.  Fat is an optional ingredient and is not necessary to make bread.  Fat, when used, adds flavor and tenderness and keeps the bread fresher for a longer time.

Eggs.  Eggs are also an optional ingredient and are more commonly used in rolls.  When used, eggs add flavor, color, nutrition, and improve the keeping quality and texture of the finished product.

The Script – A Good Recipe

Every drama needs a good script or in this case, a good recipe.  Like any other adventure in life, it is best to start with the basics and practice, practice, practice until one becomes proficient or skilled enough to branch out.  Bread can be made by hand, mixer, food processor, bread machine or some combination.  The best way to really learn bread is to use the hand method as it allows one to see and feel the ‘drama’ as it takes place which is great preparation for using any machine.

This basic or standard bread recipe makes two loaves and is the perfect starter recipe.

BASIC WHITE BREAD
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons shortening or butter
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt (optional)
1 package active, instant, or cake yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm (105-115F) water
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

Act 1.  The Plot Thickens – Making the Dough

Heat the milk on low heat. Stir in shortening, sugar, and salt and heat until all ingredients are dissolved; do not heat beyond scalding. Cool to lukewarm.

It is important to proof the yeast to ensure the yeast is alive and ready to create carbon dioxide.  To do so, dissolve the yeast in a large warm bowl with ¼ cup lukewarm water and ½ teaspoon sugar.  Stir and allow the mixture to stand for 5-10 minutes.  When the yeast mixture starts to bubble and foam, it is alive and ready for the bread.

Add the lukewarm milk mixture to the dissolved yeast. Stir in 3 cups of the flour; beat until smooth with an electric mixer or wooden spoon. Mix in enough of the remaining flour to cause the dough to form an irregular ball, come away from the sides of bowl and is easy to handle. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes for easier handling. 

Act 2.  Conflict – Kneading

Kneading is the process of working the dough by pushing, pulling and stretching to develop gluten and elasticity.  Kneading will develop muscle in the bread as well as the bread maker!  Prepare to have fun!

Turn the rested dough out on to a lightly floured surface for kneading.  To knead, take the heel of your hand and push the dough forward and stretch it. Then fold it in on itself, give it a quarter turn and repeat. Continue kneading until the bread dough is smooth, elastic, satiny, and air blisters appear just under the surface. The dough should no longer stick to the work surface or your hands. Kneading times vary, but generally it takes about 8-10 minutes of work. Don’t worry about over-kneading by hand—you will be tired long before you overwork the dough.  Shape the dough into a ball and place the dough ball back into the mixing bowl which has been lightly greased; turn the dough once to grease the surface.  Cover the dough with a clean towel or lightly greased plastic wrap for proofing. 

Act 3. Rising Action – Proofing

Proofing is the rest period during which yeast ferments the dough and produces gas or the time when the yeast and gluten do their magic work!  Proofing is best when the dough is set in a warm place (above 75ºF).  It will take about 45 to 60 minutes until the dough doubles its size.

When the bread is doubled in size, punch it down. This means plunging your fist into the center of the dough to press out some of the air inside the dough. Fold the dough over and form into a ball. Allow to rise a second time if possible. (A second rise allows yeast more time to work thereby giving the bread more texture and flavor.)   

Act 4. The Climax – Dough Becomes Loaf

After the first or second punching, divide the dough into two equal portions. Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes to make the dough easier to handle.  Place the dough on a hard surface and roll or push out the dough to remove the air bubbles and shape each loaf by rolling and pinching.  Seal the edges by pinching the seam and place into two greased 9×5-inch loaf pans; cover and let proof again until doubled. This should take about 60 to 90 minutes.

When the bread has doubled in size, pop it into a 375ºF oven and bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown and the internal temperature reads 195-210ºF on an instant read thermometer. Remove the baked loaves from the pans as they come out of the oven; cool the loaves on wire racks. Brush the top crust of the hot, baked loaves with butter or margarine, if desired, to keep the crust from becoming tough.

Act 5.  The Review – Enjoying the Results

Admire! Hold the temptation and allow the loaves to cool completely before cutting into them.  Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to slice the bread. Enjoy!

For visual help with the bread making process, check out Basic White Bread (Hand Kneaded) a YouTube by Kevin Lee Jacobs of Delicious Living. 

If you want to evaluate your bread, consider appearance,
crumb, flavor, and aroma.

APPEARANCECRUMBFLAVOR and AROMA
Symmetrical shapeMoistPleasing
Smooth rounded topFine, uniform grainSlightly sweet
Golden brown colorNo large holesNut-like flavor
Tender crustElastic or springy textureMild yeast overtones
Correct sizeNo dough streaks 
Light in weightCreamy color 
Small, defined break and shred (space
between top and sides)
  

When you have mastered basic yeast bread, you are ready to try variations using other ingredients and other techniques.  While the outcome may look or taste different, all yeast breads share a common ‘drama’.  The variety is endless and all are delicious rewards for the effort.  Your yeast bread adventure awaits!  Let the ‘drama’ begin!

[Note: this blog is geared toward 4-H youth in response for educational materials to include in a ‘box unit’ on yeast bread encouraging basic skills in the Food and Nutrition area.]

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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A New Year, a New Start, New Resolutions = Goal Setting

2020 is gone and it is time to start anew.  After a chaotic year, we eagerly welcome 2021 and a ‘fresh start’—anticipation that every new year brings—new hope of what can be and better things to come. For many, this leads to the tradition of making New Year resolutions for self improvement of one kind or another.

A big part of making resolutions is goal setting. Goal setting?  Yes, goal setting.  Having goals in life is essential and especially so when things are chaotic. Just having good intentions alone changes nothing. Resolutions without a plan is only wishful thinking. As 2021 begins anew with unlimited opportunities to change, perhaps it’s time to rethink goal setting as well.

Goal setting during a pandemic may seem silly when we’ve all learned that the best of plans or perhaps even goals can go awry.  The pandemic has also made the path going forward uncharted.  As many pundits are noting, a “return to normal” or life exactly as it was before COVID-19 entered our vocabulary, is highly unlikely. Therefore, perhaps it is best to set short-term goals for 2021 as we navigate the upcoming months of vaccinations and make our way back into a more social world.

For many years, 4-H members and their families have learned and practiced life skills: among them, setting and writing goals for their individual projects or a fair exhibit.  Surely the tips for 4-H projects apply to life and would appropriately be used to write our personal goals for 2021. 

So what makes a goal different from a resolution. A goal is the road map or navigator one uses to plan and reach a destination. A resolution is only a decision; there is no destination. From Tips for Writing 4-H Goals, goals include the following:

  • Goals must have three parts—ACTION (what one wants to do)—RESULT (what one is going to do)—TIMETABLE (when one plans to do it or have it done).
  • Goals must pass the “control test.”  Do YOU have control over the outcome of the goal or does someone else have that control?  Is the goal yours or that of someone else?
  • Goals must be S.M.A.R.T—SPECIFIC – MEASURABLE – ATTAINABLE – REALISTIC or RELEVANT – TIMELY.  For goals to be powerful, they should be designed to be SMART.

SMART goals are . . .

SPECIFIC.  What do you want to accomplish? Get down to the nitty-gritty. Saying you want to lose weight won’t cut it. Instead try, “I will lose 10 pounds and work out 20 minutes every day.”  Goals must be something that motivate you or gives you a reason to achieve them.  “By losing 10 pounds, I will feel better and fit into my slacks.”

MEASURABLE.  Consider the time necessary to reach your goal and break your goal into bite-sized chunks. Include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. Simply saying, “I will pay off by VISA card” will not get the job done unless you have a stash of cash.  Instead, consider the debt and give yourself daily, weekly or monthly steps to reach the goal by realistically determining how much you can set aside for payment OR reach out to a debt counselor to help you reach your goal step by step.  Without a way to measure your goal, you have no way of knowing whether you achieved success and have reason to celebrate “I did it”.

ATTAINABLE.  The idea is to set a goal that ‘raises the bar’ by realistically challenging you. It makes no sense to set a goal that you have no hope of achieving or setting yourself up for failure.  Perhaps you’d like to climb one of the Colorado 14ners but presently don’t have the stamina to do so.  Rather than don your boots and attempt Pikes Peak, set a goal to find and follow through with a training program to develop cardio stamina, strength, and flexibility for the adventure when you are ready.

REALISTIC or RELEVANT.  Goals are personal and must be yours—not that of another family member or your boss.  The goal needs to come from within you so you have reason to achieve it for your own personal gain or direction you want to take your life, career, hobby, health, retirement, etc.  You must be the one to control the outcome.  A goal to get a pay raise or promotion is not within your control but to perform at or prepare yourself for the next level is.

TIMELY.  Set a time limit to cross the ‘finish line’ (the third part of a goal)—a time to evaluate whether you did or did not reach your goal—what was the outcome, were you pleased, what could have been done better.  From the onset, you need to define a plan of action or a realistic step-by-step approach, which can also be set in time increments, enabling one to get to the finish line.  For example, you might say, “I will learn how to use my new camera so well that using it is second nature to me by May 31.” To make that happen, calculate and schedule daily or weekly time and steps needed to learn the various aspects of the camera and practice shooting photos using what you learn.  Then do what you can to hit that goal by your target date.

Lastly, but equally important, goals must be written down along with the steps needed to get there. The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible, holds you accountable, and tracks your progress. As you write, use action words like “will” or “shall”.   It’s also a good idea to include the reasons why you want to attain this goal. Success is achieved when you clearly define exactly what you want and understand why you want it in the first place.

As already pointed out, goals are personal and therefore may come from any or all of the meaningful aspects of our lives:  spiritual, fitness, health, educational, family, career, social, or financial.  Living through the months of pandemic uncertainty and restrictions has likely given many of us a pretty good idea of our personal vulnerabilities and a desire to be or do more or “. . . put ego away and really evaluate and try to figure out how do you chart a course to become the best version of yourself you can be.” (Matt Campbell, Iowa State University Head Football Coach, November 27, 2020)

Life happens and goals may go off track; 2020 was filled with one surprise or mishap after another. In real life, pandemic or not, there are speed bumps and roadblocks in our journey. As long as we stay the course, focusing on the end goal and taking small steps toward getting there, we will be on our way to attaining our goals and becoming the best version of ourselves.   Let’s get going!  2021 is here!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is here to HELP!

While AnswerLine has been providing information and resources for Iowa consumers with home and family questions for over 40 years, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has been serving Iowans since the early 1900s.  The Mission of ISU Extension and Outreach is to engage citizens through research‐based educational programs and extend the resources of Iowa State University across Iowa. AnswerLine is just one of the entities of extension outreach. Let me introduce you to some of the other resources available to help individuals and families navigate issues that may concern them. 

  1. Stay informed on general ISU Extension and Outreach resources and opportunities through the Extension home page and news feed.
  2. The Iowa 4-H team has at-home learning resources which are publicly available for members and families to use.
  3. Iowa Concern offers free and confidential calls and emails 24/7 to help with stress management, financial issues, legal aid, and crisis resources.
  4. The ISU Horticulture and Home Pest news page offers download publications, how to improve your garden videos, and a Hortline for answers to lawn and garden questions.
  5. Get help with meal planning and food budgeting through the Spend Smart Eat Smart website.
  6. Visit the Beginning Farmer, Women in Ag and Ag Decision Maker websites for updates on programs and helpful resources from the Farm Management team. You can also contact the farm management field specialists with your questions. 
  7. Preserve the Taste of Summer offers a number of publications and resources for safe food preservation techniques.
  8. For great information on home gardens, farmer’s markets and u-pick operations, plant sales, and more or how to become a Master Gardener, the Master Gardener Program site is a must.
  9. When Teens don’t know who to talk to, Teen Line can help with a variety of issues that affect Teens and their families.
  10. Use the ISU Extension Staff Directory when looking for a specific person or persons in a specific area of expertise.  The Contact page offers additional resources and provides a form to send an email with questions, concerns, or suggestions. Ask An Expert is always available for questions; those questions come to AnswerLine where we either answer the query or send it to someone in Extension (Iowa or elsewhere) that can better answer it.

Besides these resources, one can always find help at the ISU Extension and Outreach extension offices located in each of Iowa’s counties, on social media outlets, and the many blogs written by Extension staff on current topics.  At the present time, most ISU Extension and Outreach in-person events throughout the state have been canceled through May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, ISU Extension and Outreach staff remain committed to serving Iowans during this difficult time; phones and emails are being answered by Extension staff at the county and state levels.  Please check out the resources available that may provide the help you seek and watch for updates on how ISU Extension and Outreach will proceed to serve Iowans after May 31.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Mask Makers, Mask Makers, We Love You!

Experienced and inexperienced sewers alike have found their way to a sewing machine in recent times.  For some, sewing is their hobby or passion and they have a love affair with their machine.  Others, have dug an old machine out of the back of the closet, dusted it off, oiled it, and once again have learned how to thread it.  And still others who have never owned a machine and/or perhaps have never used a machine, have purchased one or borrowed one from a friend, and are experiencing the joy of using (or frustration) of having a sewing machine.  What all of these sewers have in common is a drive to help others by making masks and other PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that is in short supply as we combat COVID-19.

MY HAT IS OFF to all those who are giving of their time, talent, or donations to help our frontline workers as well as friends, neighbors, and loved ones.  While many do it in the quiet of their home and donate as they desire, others have achieved some fame for their outreach.  There have been numerous stories of this selflessness including Iowa 4-H members who have exceeded their goal of 10,000 masks.

I, too, opened my sewing machine and made several dozen masks for a local group.  As I started this venture in March, I was frustrated by the mixed information that was coming forth from varying agencies and individual groups.  Each had a different idea of what was the best mask and each wanted a given style which in most cases was unlike someone else’s.  As the need grew, so did the number of mask styles and the formation of groups, locally and nationally.  As I write today, there is an unknown number of mask styles available online with YouTube tutorials showing how to make them.  Really anybody can do it!  And for the most part, most groups are now accepting masks regardless of pattern as long as they meet CDC guidelines. 

So if one is interested in joining the cause, here’s some basic information:

  1. Masks should meet the latest CDC guidelines.  If masks are to be made for a designated group, check their specific guidelines to be sure that your work will be used.
  2. For open donations, the exact style is entirely up to the donor.  Masks may be made with elastic, ties, nose pieces, or pockets for filters.  After trying many different patterns, the one I found to be the fastest and easiest for me was shown on YouTube by The Brick Ballroom.  When elastic ran out, it was easy to convert to ties.  It is also easy to add a channel for a nose piece and accommodates a filter if desired.  JoAnn Fabrics has mask kits available free of charge.
  3. Fabric used must be new, washable, tightly woven, cotton or cotton blend.  Quilting fabrics (scraps or yardage) are perfect.
  4. Masks should be made in a coronavirus-free home.
  5. Use clean hands and sew in a clean, smoke-free place.
  6. Package donations in clear plastic, zipper lock bags.

If one is unsure of where to send or take their masks, one place is Mask Helpers, a clearing house created by Keokuk, IA brothers who help connect those who need free, non-medical grade, reusable masks with those who are able to make and donate them.   They also provide information on how to send the masks without leaving the safety of your home.

Again thank you to all the Mask Makers.  We LOVE you!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tips for Completing the 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet

The 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet is part of each static project that 4-H members prepare for the fair.  The goal sheet is usually in written form, but may be submitted as a video or a voice recording.  4-H members can use a standard form or create their own.  Regardless of presentation, the three parts (questions) must be answered. The three parts to the exhibit goal sheet include:

  • exhibit goal – first and perhaps the most important,
  • explanation of steps taken to reach the goal,
  • learning experiences acquired while doing the project as stated in the goal.

A previous blog addressed the “What was your exhibit goal?” question and how to write a great goal.  This blog will be about the remaining two parts (steps and learning) or questions, “What steps did you take to learn or do this?” and “What were the most important things that you learned.”

What steps did you take to learn or do this?

Here is where the 4-H member lays out the path that was taken to get from the goal to the finished project.  It can be communicated step by step or told in story form.  At any rate, it should be thoughtful and thorough so that the reader can follow the procedure and understand what has been done.  Pictures showing the steps or the project in progress are helpful but are NOT REQUIRED.  If the project is a baked product, the recipe must be included and the source identified (cookbook name, magazine, or website).  If the recipe came from a relative or friend, give their name.

What were the most important things that you learned?

Here is where the 4-H member reflects back on their project and shares all that was learned.  The learning might even include something that didn’t go well or that they would do differently another time.  It may be about trial and error or problem solving.  It may include discoveries that were made in the course of completing the project or some research that was done. Here is were the member can also include the identified elements and principles of design if they are required for the project.  Remember, the learning should come from the project goal.

The 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet form is available from the County Extension Offices and online.  However, the forms do not have to be used as long as the three questions are answered.  Regardless of how it is done, the goal sheet should support the project that is exhibited.  The goal sheet should be typed or neatly written by hand so that it looks as professional as possible.  Be sure to proofread.

For more help in answering these two questions, check out this great video.  A thoughtfully prepared 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet is the final step in putting together a great project for exhibit at the fair.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tips for Writing 4-H Exhibit Goals

We are within days of County Fair season in Iowa.  For some families, that means crunch time to get 4-H projects ready for exhibit.  Besides the project, members must also complete a 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet for each of their static projects.  When the goal sheet is hastily written or not well thought out, the goal sheet can become a detriment rather than a support to the project.  The goal sheet is usually in written form, but may be submitted as a video or a voice recording.  4-H members can use a standard form or create their own.  Regardless of presentation, the three parts (questions) must be answered.

The three parts to the exhibit goal sheet include:

  • exhibit goal – first and perhaps the most important,
  • explanation of steps taken to reach the goal,
  • learning experiences acquired while doing the project as stated in the goal.

This blog will be about the goal or the “What was your exhibit goal?” question.  Another blog will address the steps and learning experiences questions.

The goal is the road map helping one plan how to get where they want to go or the “googled” directions for arriving at a destination. As one usually ‘googles” directions before starting to drive, the goal should lead to the finished project.  Therefore, it is important that the goal be known at the start of the project so that the steps and learning experiences result in the project to be evaluated.

So what makes a strong goal?

  • Goals have three parts—ACTION (what one wants to do)—RESULT (what one is going to do)—TIMETABLE (when one plans to do it or have it done).
  • Goals should pass the “control test.”  Does the 4-H member have control over the outcome of the goal or does someone else have that control?
  • Goals should be appropriate for the age and experience level  of the 4-H member.
  • Goals should be S.M.A.R.T.  or SENSIBLE – MEASURABLE – ATTAINABLE – REALISTIC – TIMELY.  Of the five  S. M.A.R.T. parts, MEASURABLE jumps out as the part that allows a 4-H member to evaluate their own project and see growth.  Measurable is also important to the 4-H judge in evaluating the project.

Here’s some examples of goals and their strength.

Action Result Timetable Pass Control Test S.M.A. R. T. Strong Goal
I want to make a poster. None Yes Not Measurable No
I want to learn how to tie 5 knots and display them at the county fair. Yes Yes Yes
I want to earn a blue ribbon on my photo at the fair. No Not Measurable

 

 

No
I want to sew a pillow for my room before my birthday. Yes Yes Yes
I want to make a favorite family treat. None Maybe Not Measurable No
I want to learn how to make strawberry jam when the strawberries are in season. Yes Yes Yes

Learning to set goals is an essential life skill to develop.  Goals should change and become more challenging each year to show growth in a project.  For more information on strong goals for the 4-H Exhibit Sheet, check out a worksheet and a great video on setting goals.  And after a great goal is in place, check out Tips for Completing the 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Easy Sewing Projects

Last month, I was able to visit my son and his family in Idaho. Since I love to sew, I always try to pack something fun that the grandsons there can learn to sew. My goal is to teach all of my grandchildren to sew. Since I do not have the opportunity to spend much time with most of them, I always have an easy project with me when I do visit.

If the 4-H member at your house wants to try sewing, start them on something simple and small. Zippered bags, or even open top bags are quick and easy to make. This year, we made small zippered bags. They are ideal for hiding a treasured item, packing small items in a suitcase, or holding sewing supplies. This version of a bag (there are many different patterns available) requires a zipper and fusible quilt batting. The quilt batting provides some structure or stiffness to the bag without requiring a more difficult sewing technique. You simply iron the lining piece onto the batting and then sew each strip onto the opposite side. Zipper installation does not require a special zipper foot, you simply sew along the inside edge of the zipper tape. After sewing side seams and a bottom seam, you open up the bottom and sew a diagonal line across the side and bottom seam to give the bag some volume or shape.

It occurred to me that a bag similar to this one would be a great first time sewing project for a 4-H member. Each bag would take only an hour or two to construct and members could make multiple bags for themselves, friends, or family members. Making multiple bags would allow 4-H members skills to increase. You can eliminate some of the frustration that comes when you have to fit a garment and have take out seams that need to be changed. This exhibit could be finished months ahead of the County Fair.

 

 

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Planning a 4-H exhibit wisely

It hardly seems possible, but we are beginning to get calls and emails from 4-H members about projects for county fair. Many members are planning food preservation projects for the fair. This is a great time of year to preserve food, especially canned foods. Many members choose to can jams or jellies, vegetables, fruit, and even meat.

Home food preservation has some stricter rules than other food products that you may want to exhibit. ALL home food preservation exhibits must be made using research based information. This includes the USDA canning guide, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publications (Preserve the Taste of Summer), anything from the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or their So Easy to Preserve book, a recent Ball Blue Book (or anything on their website). Additionally, the printed directions in a pectin package or Mrs. Wage’s products may be used. We do not consider old family recipes to be research based, nor recipes from the neighbor, church cookbooks, or Better Homes and Gardens or random websites.

It is important to remember that Pinterest by itself is not a resource. Pinterest is more like an index. Each Pinterest post connects to a website. If you follow the post back to the webpage, that would be your resource.

If you decide to prepare a baked product, the recipe does NOT need to be listed in an approved resource or research based. Cookbooks are great resources for recipes as the recipes listed in them have been tested to ensure the product turns out as expected. Recipes from random websites likely were not been tested and you may not end up with the product you expect. That does not mean you are not allowed to use these recipes, but you may wind up wasting time and ingredients.

There are some limits on what baked or cooked foods can be safely exhibited at a fair. We have a resource to help members know what products can be exhibited and what products may need to be prepared at home and photographed for entry to the fair. In the case of a food requiring refrigeration, like a pumpkin pie, it is fine to bake and taste at home. Bring only the write up and pictures. Since the judge will not see the pie, remember to make a very thorough write-up to take to the fair. This method works as long as the product is considered safe to eat normally. Making an unsafe product, such as using a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner for green beans can neither be exhibited at the fair nor exhibited through the use or a write-up with pictures.

Reports or posters on nutrition or the effects of a certain vitamin or mineral do need to use research-based information. It is important to provide accurate information when reporting to the public. Members will want to use the same effort to report on a nutrition topic as they would when writing a report for school.

This is only a short list of the mistakes it is easy for members to make when planning an exhibit for their County Fair. Remember that AnswerLine is only a phone call (1-800-262-3804) or email (answer@iastate.edu) away. Contact us, we love to help.

 

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Collecting and Fall Planting Milkweed for Monarchs

In recent years, we have heard and read much about the declining monarch butterfly population due to eradication of milkweed in agricultural and urban areas.  Milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs.  It is the only host plant for the monarch caterpillars which feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed.  And besides providing food for caterpillars, the leaves of the milkweed plant are the only place that the female monarchs lay their eggs.  As milkweed plants gradually disappeared from the landscape, the monarch populations gradually declined.  With the decline, there is urging to plant milkweed to support and increase the monarch population.

Back in the 1990s, I began an initial planting of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) along our creek banks with seeds from a single pod that I found along the road side. In the 20 some years since, those few seeds have fostered a nice habitat for monarchs as they not only spread along the creek bank, but also into the surrounding pasture.  This year I am once again on a mission to collect some pods, harvest the seeds, and eventually plant them.  However, this time I have a partner; my 9-year old granddaughter loves monarchs and wants to do her part in helping their survival.

Fall is the perfect time to collect and plant milkweed.  The first step is to acquire seed.  Most milkweed species grow particularly well in undisturbed areas, so start by checking out roadsides, pastures, creek and river banks, railroad track beds, bike paths, highway medians, agricultural field margins, vacant land, cultivated gardens, and parks.  In September the seed pods begin to turn brown, split, and open.  The seed pod looks like a spiny, bumpy fruit. They begin light green in color and gradually over the summer turn yellow-green and eventually sage green to sage grey-brown.  As they get to this later stage, they will start to split.  This is the stage that you want for harvesting seeds. When the pod is opened, the seeds inside should be dark brown. If they’re green or light brown, they’re not mature yet and won’t sprout when planted.  If you don’t see the split or aren’t sure about the color, you can gently push on the pod; if it splits easily and the seeds are brown, it is ready; if it won’t pop open easily, leave it for another time.

Remove the entire seed pod from the plant and place it in a paper or organza bag.  Attached to the seeds is the coma, (white, hairy fluff also known as floss, silk, or plume) that is essential to the natural propagation of milkweed in the wild.  The fluff enables the wind to scatter and disperse the seed over a wide area.  Whether the seed is saved to share or use later or planted this fall, the fluff should be removed and it is best to do this before the pod fully opens and explodes.  When the seeds are all compact inside the pod, it is easy to do by carefully removing the spine holding the fluff and running your fingers down it; as you do, the seeds fall out easily.  Check out the Monarch Butterfly Garden website for a great video on how to do this.  If the pod is more mature and already opening with the fluff beginning to take flight, place the pod in a paper bag and shake it vigorously; sometimes it helps to add some coins or washers to the bag to aid this process.

Milkweed needs a period of cold stratification to germinate so that is what makes fall an ideal time to plant milkweed as Mother Nature will do the work during the winter months. November is the best time in the Midwest to plant.  The soil needs to be cold enough that the seeds won’t germinate, but not yet frozen.  The location chosen should be sunny and an area where you can allow the milkweeds to spread naturally over time as they can become invasive in a perfectly manicured yard or flower garden.  A bare patch of moist soil is best.  Poke a shallow hole and drop in a seed or two.  Cover, water, and lightly mulch for winter protection, and wait for spring.  For more tips on planting, see Fall Planting Milkweed Seeds – 10 Simple Steps from the Monarch Butterfly Garden website.  Another method of planting  is by making and throwing out seed balls.  To learn more about this method, see the article by the Iowa DNR.

If you miss the window for fall planting, the seeds can be planted in the spring, too.  For additional information on keeping seeds over the winter and planting in the spring or other times, check out the Michigan State University publication, How to Collect and Grow Milkweeds to Help Monarchs and Other Pollinators.

Lastly, I would be amiss to not suggest that this would make a great 4-H project for any young person interested in monarch habitat.  And for crafters, there are any number of ways to use the dried pods.  In all cases, please be advised to wear gloves or wash hands frequently when working with milkweed or pods.  Milkweed sap (looks like milk) can be an eye irritant, so take appropriate precautions to avoid this kind of discomfort.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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