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

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

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

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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Canning projects for 4-H fairs

It is just about time to think about exhibits for 4-H fair. Canning jams or jellies are popular subjects for 4-H projects and make fun exhibits at the County Fair. Members often enjoy picking berries for jams or jelly and spending time with family as they harvest. Sometimes grandma comes over to help with the exhibit.

Preserved foods make a great fair exhibit but it is important to follow the fair rules. Remember the following tips for best results at the fair:

  1. ALWAYS use a safe, tested recipe from a reliable source. Extension Publications, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, current Ball Blue Books, the USDA Canning Guide, and in the case of Jams and Jellies, the pectin package inserts.
  2. Follow the directions precisely and do not make any changes in any preserved food recipe.
  3. Check on the Foods for Iowa 4-H Fairs-Quick Reference Guide to be sure the product you want to bring is appropriate.
  4. Remember to adjust the time or pressure for the altitude of your home or county. Most of Iowa is above 1000’ and will require adjustment of time in boiling water bath canners or pressure if you are using a weighted gauge pressure canner.
  5. Dial gauge canner gauges must tested yearly. AnswerLine can direct you to a county office that is testing gauges.
  6. Always use the preserved food label for a 4-H preserved food exhibit.  Get this at your local county Extension and Outreach office.
  7. Bring two jars of your product to the County and State Fair. If you are down to the last jar, it is ok to bring only one to the State Fair.
  8. Clean the outside of your jar and be sure that the ring on the jar is also clean.

The AnswerLine staff is always happy to advise you if you have questions or problems with your home canning projects. Happy canning.

Liz Meimann

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.

More Posts - Website


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