HAPPY HOLIDAYS! from AnswerLine 2023

operator taking phone calls or replying to emails
Phone operator – Photo: Canva.com

As 2023 comes to a close, AnswerLine is completing 48 years of sharing family and consumer information. 

During the past year, it has been our pleasure to answer more than 17,000 calls, emails, Ask Extension, Facebook/Instagram, and blog questions; it has also been our privilege to interact with consumers, helping them solve problems, issues, and concerns that affect their daily lives with researched-based information. 

Our clients come from all walks of life. Some are friends we have never met; we hear from them frequently, and in doing so, we have learned something about each other. We love helping anyone with a question; NO question is silly or foolish. While there is great satisfaction in helping each individual find a solution that works for them, the greater satisfaction comes from client feedback, the friendships we have built over the years, and the personal growth we each experience as we expand our knowledge.

Presently, the AnswerLine team has a staff of six women with varying backgrounds in consumer science, consumer science education, business, food science, dietetics, extension and 4-H. While our specialty is answering home and family questions, we have a wealth of experts whom we can call upon for help with horticulture, entomology, wildlife, agriculture, and other related questions through the Iowa State University and Extension and Outreach network and the University of Minnesota Extension. We are also members of the North Central Food Safety Extension Network (NCFSEN) allowing us to reach out to food safety experts in surrounding states.

Between questions this year, we were challenged to find a safe, shelf-stable frosting recipe for 4-H fair exhibits and share our research with 4-H families, extension staff, and fair judges before the 2023 fairs. We also updated the Foods for Iowa 4-H Fairs – Quick Reference Guide (2023) and are currently working on updates to the 2024 guide based on current trends and food safety issues. We helped the ISU Food Safety team develop a Fermentation and Preserve the Taste of Summer workshop that rolled out to Iowans in late summer. Several YouTube videos were prepared and shared with the public. We were involved in a joint NCFSEN effort to develop and publish three recent publications: Oops! Remaking Jams and Jellies, Play It Safe! Safe Changes and Substitutions to Tested Canning Recipes, and Steam Can It Right.

The AnswerLine team looks forward to serving you in 2024! Contact us in one of three ways:
1)  Call us toll-free Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – noon and 1 – 4 p.m.
                  1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
                  1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)
                  1-800-735-2942 (Relay Iowa phone linkage for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals)
                  515-296-5883 (toll charges may apply)
2)  Email us anytime: answer@iastate.edu OR at Ask an ISU Extension Expert a Question
3) Comment on the Answerline blog, Facebook, or Instagram.

We wish all our AnswerLine clients and friends a happy and safe holiday season! 
Beth, Carol, Jennie, Marcia, Marlene, and Rachel

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Images source: Canva.com

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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Start a Canning and Preserving Notebook/Journal

With gardens and orchards coming to their seasonal ends, food preservation is wrapping up.  Now is the time to make a note of it!  Better yet, start a preserving notebook if you do not already have one to get ready and organized for coming seasons.

Cover of a preserving notebook
Cover of Preserving Notebook – Photo: mrgeiger

A few years ago, I had the brilliant idea to start a notebook of safe canning recipes so that I did not have to look them up or remember where they came from when I was ready to preserve. Since that time, that notebook has become my go-to for all things food preservation and includes recipes, tips, notes, answers to questions, quantities made and used, dates made or put into storage, new equipment to check out, and more–anything that I need to jog my memory.  I only wish that I had started my notebook and journal many years ago; it would have saved me so much time, saved me from making mistakes, kept me organized, prevented food waste, and made sharing and preserving so much easier and more efficient. It would also be a wonderful history of my canning and preserving life.

The notebook, a 3-ring binder, started with recipes copied or printed from reliable sources for all of the usual things—tomatoes, green beans, fruit juice, strawberry jam, salsa, etc. As time has gone on, more recipes have been added, expanding the kinds of things preserved as well as helpful information including updated methods. Another valuable part of my notebook is the annual journal listing the foods preserved, how much, when, recipe, etc. At first, it was just a piece of notebook paper with columns.  Since then I have made a page using Excel on my computer that can be printed each year and penciled in as preservation takes place. 

The best time to start a notebook or journal is NOW while you may still have memories of what you did in the past season and prepare for a new canning or preserving season. Besides making preservation more efficient, it can also be a way to be creative making it your own like a scrapbook. If you are not crafty, there are ready-made and even handcrafted personalized canning and preserving journals available to purchase. Most of these are available on various online sites.

Preserve what you have learned or have done. Keep track of all your canning and preserving projects for future seasons and perhaps posterity! You’ll be glad you did!

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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Welcome Jennie Savits to AnswerLine!

AnswerLine is pleased to welcome Jennie Savits as our newest team member. Jennie joined AnswerLine on June 1 and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. Further, she is no stranger to Iowa State University or Extension and Outreach.  

Jennie holds BS/MS degrees in Food Science from Iowa State University and completed 11 years with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University. While with the Institute, Jennie held various roles in the lab and in the field. She worked on extension and outreach activities and research projects to support the local grape and wine industry in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. Jennie also has experience with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University as a lecturer, where she taught food science laboratory courses and oversaw laboratory renovations.

Jennie’s interest in food science stemmed from participation in the 4H and FFA organizations. Growing up in rural Boone County, she was a member of the Harrison Happy Hustlers 4-H club and the Boone A&M FFA Chapter. Jennie enjoyed completing 4H projects in the areas of food and nutrition, horticulture, and livestock. Food science became a key area of interest after she competed on a team that won the inaugural Iowa FFA Food Science Career Development Event (CDE). Their team went on to place 2nd nationally and directed Jennie’s career path toward food science.

Jennie says that she really enjoys the opportunity to help people find answers and solve problems, especially on topics related to food safety and food preservation. Jennie has developed strong relationships within the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach organization and looks forward to helping disseminate research based information to those we serve.

Family
Savits family – Photo: jsavits

Jennie lives with her husband, Paul, and their 5 children on a farm near Ogden. She enjoys spending time with family, helping out around the farm, and gardening.

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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Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Parents Adjust

My husband and I will be welcoming our second child this August. As excited as we are about our newest addition, we also recognize this will shift our family dynamics and be an adjustment for ourselves and our son, Thomas, who will be 21 months when his brother or sister arrives.

Child with grandparents.
Child with grandparents – Photo: rsweeney

In this blog, I am focusing on things my husband and I plan to do prior to baby arriving to help make the adjustment easier (for strategies on how were preparing Thomas for the adjustment, see my previous blog, Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Older Children Adjust).

We are excited that our family is growing, but also recognize our hands will be quite full with two children under two years old. As we close in on the third trimester, I am embracing Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Now, I realize not every detail will be attended to (and there are going to be things I overlook) but having a general game plan and preparing accordingly will help reduce my stress heading into this transition.

Strategies to Help Parents Adjust:

Thomas with Grandma Wall
Child with grandmother – rsweeney
  • Create a plan for who will watch the other child(ren): while we are at hospital Thomas will be staying with my in-laws. We plan for Thomas to do a test run at Grandma and Grandpa’s house overnight before the baby arrives, so he is familiar with sleeping overnight in a new place. Also consider what your child needs with them and make sure to pack those items. For Thomas, this will include his sound machine and sleep sack.
  • Create a plan for meals ahead of time: caring for a newborn and toddler doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy to prepare meals. There are several different approaches you can take when thinking about advance meal planning. Some may want to organize a Meal Train, where friends, family and neighbors select a date and meal they will be delivering to your home, others may order frozen meals to be delivered. I am planning to set aside a day to prepare several main dish recipes and store them in my freezer for easy meals when the baby arrives.
  • Preparing nursery and other baby-specific areas: this will look different for everyone depending on the set-up of their home. For me, this will include getting the nursery set-up, washing baby clothes and blankets, creating several diaper changing areas throughout the house, and preparing supplies for nursing. I also plan to set up a subscription for diaper delivery as this will be one less thing to worry about once the baby is here. Alongside washing baby clothes and blankets, I’ve been carefully selecting organic options, prioritizing quality and sustainability. From soft cotton onesies to cozy sleepers, each piece has been carefully selected for its quality and sustainability. I’m particularly excited about a Dim Sum-inspired onesie I found, adorned with adorable dumpling illustrations. It’s a playful nod to our favorite cuisine and adds a touch of whimsy to our baby’s wardrobe.
  • Pack hospital bag: this is always nice to have done as we don’t always know when babies will make their appearance. Along with the hospital bag, I’ll also be washing the material in our infant car seat, reassembling, and setting it next to my hospital bag so it is not forgotten! 
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed: babies bring so much joy to our lives, but they are also a lot of work. Make sure to accept help from your partner, relatives, and friends. After Thomas was born my mom stayed with us for several days when we returned from the hospital. It was so nice to have an extra set of hands and we’re planning to have her stay again once this baby arrives!
  • Make time to care for yourself: After having Thomas, I decided to swim twice a week as preparation for a half-Ironman relay. I really appreciated this time alone to recharge and found I was more patient with both Thomas and my husband after swimming.
  • Remember to make time for each other: children of couples who have a strong and loving relationship are more likely to adjust well to the new baby. After Thomas was a few months old and we felt comfortable leaving him for a stretch of several hours, we have tried to do a date night (or afternoon) once a month, just the two of us. It isn’t always fancy (sometimes it involves running errands), but it is nice to have that time to reconnect.

Welcoming a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) baby into the family is a big transition for parents but planning and preparing ahead of time can make the transition easier for all involved. With a little preparation beforehand, we are eager to bond as a family.

Sources:

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.
Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps. Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, TBA
Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, TBA
Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, TBA
Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 23-24, 2024

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

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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Small-Batch Fermentation – AnswerLine Team Gives It a Try

Large head of cabbage and two jars of fermented sauerkraut
Large head of cabbage and two jars of fermented sauerkraut – Photo: mrgeiger

In recent years, consumers have become more interested in home fermentation, especially in making their own sauerkraut and kimchi for the beneficial bacteria it provides for gut health.  As this trend grows, the AnswerLine team receives many questions about the fermenting process. To help answer questions with first-hand experience, the AnswerLine team rolled up their sleeves and spent an evening learning to create the digestive ‘wonder food,’ sauerkraut, from scratch.

The biggest trend in DIY sauerkraut and kimchi is making it in small batches—small amounts made regularly using quart, half-gallon or gallon jars. Kraut or kimchi made in small batches ferments more quickly than in big crocks allowing one batch to be fermenting while another is refrigerated and eaten. The market has responded to consumer demand by providing consumers with a large assortment of fermentation kits, containers, and gadgets to make fermentation easy and fun.  The AnswerLine team randomly chose two different kits with which to experiment—MasonTops® and Ball®—to ferment cabbage into sauerkraut. Both of these kits used quart jars which were prepared in advanced.

Mature, firm heads of cabbage were selected from a team-member’s garden a day prior; cabbage can also be purchased at the supermarket for year-round kraut making.  Both red and green cabbage varieties can be used; the team used a mix of red and green.

Two women cutting cabbage
Two women cutting cabbage – Photo: bmarrs

We used a mandolin to shred the cabbage. Cabbage can also be shredded using a sharp knife, kraut cutter, or food processor.  However cut, the shreds should be long and thin.  Once the cabbage was shredded, it was weighed, and salt (canning and pickling salt) added per the kit recipe.

Woman massaging cabbage
Woman massaging the cabbage – Photo: bmarrs

The salt was massaged into the cabbage until the cabbage was wilted and juicy. 

Two women packing cabbage into jars
Two women packing massaged cabbage into jars – Photo: bmarrs

The wilted/juiced cabbage was firmly packed into the quart jars allowing the juice to come to the top and completely cover the cabbage. 

The two kits allowed for different amounts of headspace.  What is most important is that there is sufficient headspace for the brine from the cabbage/salt mix to completely cover the top of the cabbage.  After the jars were filled, the jars were weighted and topped with the fermenting lid and screw band supplied with each kit.  Weights can be a food grade glass disk (provided with the MasonTop® kit), stainless steel spring (provided with the Ball® kit), a freezer bag filled with brine* that fits into the jar, a smaller glass jar filled with water or brine, or a full wine bottle that sits on top of the cabbage.  If using a brine bag, glass jar, or wine bottle for weight, whole cabbage leaves (discard when the kraut is done fermenting) should be packed atop the cabbage first.

Five women and one child holding jars of cabbage ready for fermenting
AnswerLine Team (Rachel Sweeney( and child), Marlene Geiger, Beth Marrs, Marcia Steed, and Carol Van Waardhuizzen) show the jars of cabbage ready for fermenting. Photo: bmarrs

Each team member left the workshop with two jars to ferment at home.  At home, team members were advised to store their jars in a cooler, darker place in their home, to check it daily to make sure that the cabbage was always covered in brine, and to wait about 2 weeks to test.  Fermentation time is dependent on quantity and temperature.  Kraut fermented at 70º-75ºF will ferment in about 1-2 weeks; at 60º-65ºF, fermentation may take 2-3 weeks.  At temperatures lower than 60ºF, kraut may not ferment and above 75ºF, kraut may become soft or mushy.  The best way to determine when the kraut is ready is by smell and taste.  The cabbage should be translucent but remain crunchy, not soft or slimy. The salty flavor should be diminished and replaced with a bright, tangy flavor of the lactic acid. When the kraut has reached an individual liking, it is time to stop the fermentation by refrigerating and eating it.

Here are the team takeaways from this experience:

  • Small batch kits make it easy to get started, learn about the fermentation process, and build fermentation confidence. Kits are a matter of personal preference.
  • Approximately 2 pounds of cabbage is needed to fill a quart jar.
  • Tightly packing the cabbage into the jars is important to continue releasing the juices necessary to create the anaerobic (without oxygen) environment need for lacto-fermentation to take place while inhibiting spoil-causing bacteria.
  • Work in small batches when packing the cabbage into the jars.  Pack tightly after each handful addition.
  • Important to keep oxygen out yet allow carbon dioxide to bubble out.  Good amount of brine, weight, and lid with an air release enable this. 
  • Keep the cabbage submerged under the brine at all times to prevent oxidation; cabbage will brown at the top if the brine level drops. Add brine during the fermentation time, if needed.
  • Monitor it daily watching for off smell or loss of brine.  Watch for signs of healthy fermentation: cabbage swelling, gas pockets, color changes, bubbles or foam on the surface of the brine, some white sediment in the bottom of the jar. Bubbling activity is normal and a good sign the fermentation process is working.
  • Flavor improves with age but can be customized to individual taste and probiotic level. Longer ferments give a stronger flavor and more probiotics. 

Fermented foods can be a healthy and nutritious addition to your diet and a great way to preserve the harvest as well. Sauerkraut is one of the oldest and easiest of fermented food. Unlike the packaged kraut at the supermarket which may have been pasteurized to kill bacteria, small-batch sauerkraut is lacto-fermented, a fancy term for soaking uncooked cabbage in brine (salt and water), then letting nature ferment the vegetable’s own beneficial bacteria.  This process was perfected by the Germans during the 16th century and still used today.   (While the Germans are best known for their kraut making skills, it is believed that the first sauerkraut was made in China about 2,000 years ago, during the building of the Great Wall.)   

For recipes and additional information or help, check out Small Batch Sauerkraut Tips and Sauerkraut:  Problems and Solutions by Oregon State University Extension. 

Taking the plunge into home fermentation can be an intimidating proposition. Whether you’re a complete beginner or have some experience, small-bath fermentation with cabbage is a good place to start to build your confidence while learning about fermentation.

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*Brine – ½ teaspoon salt to ½ cup water

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

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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Meet Rachel Sweeney

Rachel Sweeney is the newest member of the AnswerLine team!

Child giving a 4-H presentation
Rachel giving a 4-H baking presentation – Photo: rsweeney

AnswerLine is a new role for Rachel Sweeney, but Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is not. Rachel grew up on a diversified farm outside of Iowa City and was actively involved with Johnson County 4-H as a member of the Graham Champions 4-H Club. At an early age, she realized she could turn her interest in food and nutrition projects into a career, she decided to attend Iowa State University and major in that area graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dietetics and exercise science. After graduation, she spent a year in Nashville completing a dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Rachel’s began her professional career as an ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist in Nutrition and Wellness, serving southeast Iowa for nearly seven years. In this role she led food preservation workshops, food safety trainings, and nutrition trainings for child care providers. After a brief stint as a retail dietitian, she returned to ISU Extension and Outreach as a program coordinator for Iowa 4-H Youth Development’s SWITCH (School Wellness Ingetration Targeting Child Health) program, an innovative school wellness initiative designed to support and enhance school wellness programming. After two years in this role, she got a new job title, MOM, in November of 2021, and a need to balance work and family life. AnswerLine provided the perfect opportunity for her to continue to work and enjoy her young family. One month into the job, Rachel says, “I have really enjoyed my first month on the job answering client’s questions and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow in this role to best serve the citizens of Iowa and Minnesota.”

When Rachel is not answering client questions via phone or email, she is likely with her family, 5-month old son, Thomas, and husband, Jim. She enjoys gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, and being outside. As if she isn’t busy enough with work, family, and her many interests, she is also training for the swim portion of a half-Ironman relay-team competition in June! GO Rachel!!!!!

Rachel is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and stays involved with the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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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September is National Sewing Month

Assorted sewing supplies
Assorted sewing supplies, hand and machine – Photo: mrgeiger

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 both a skill and a creative hobby enjoyed by millions of people from all walks of life around the world.

For those looking to embark on their sewing journey or enhance their skills, resources like TopSewingMachineUK offer a wealth of valuable information and guidance. Here, enthusiasts can access helpful articles and reviews to aid them in selecting the right tools and equipment for their sewing endeavors. Whether you’re a novice seeking to learn the basics or an experienced seamstress looking to expand your repertoire, this platform provides the resources you need to delve deeper into the world of sewing and unleash your creativity.

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 thread and needle. 

While we may recognize the skill and 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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Celebrating Quilting and Crafting

During the month of March, quilting and crafting are given recognition nationally as a time to celebrate and appreciate the two artistic forms and the benefits derived by using individual talents to create.  It may be no coincidence that the two commemorate hands-on activities in the same month. Both require skill, creativity, supplies and/or equipment, and the use of hands. Either can be a hobby or an occupation with an opportunity to earn by selling creations or by teaching a skill.

Assorted sewing items with emphasis on HANDMADE

National Quilting Month has been sponsored by the National Quilting Association (NQA) since 1991 when it designated the third Saturday in March as National Quilting Day; over the years it has expanded to the entire month of March giving quilters more time for shop-hops, shows, and classes.  In 1994, the Craft & Hobby Association created National Craft Month to help people rediscover and learn about the benefits of crafting.  While crafting may conjure up images of kids working with popsicle sticks and glue, crafters, in reality, are people of all ages who produce something tangible with their hands. 

Quilts and various crafts can be beautiful as well as useful or not.  It is for this reason that we have shows and museums to expose, share, study and enjoy the skill, art, or craft.  Whether quilt or craft, both adhere to aesthetic principles by the materials chosen, shapes used, or how the various pieces come together.  The completed pieces may be useful or have no purpose at all.  When they provide beauty or please our sense of aesthetics, the outcome is art.

Benefits of Quilting and Crafting

The benefits or quilting or crafting are numerous:

  • Relieves stress by turning on our endorphins, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate, reducing fight or flight, heart attack and stroke.
  • Increases mental acuity with problem solving, math or geometry, and critical thinking.
  • Meaningful work or sense of accomplishment provides pleasure rewards for the brain.
  • Increases appreciation, empathy and tolerance of others and other forms of creativity.
  • Builds confidence and inspires one to think ‘outside of the box’ in other aspects of their lives.
  • Brings people together as they enjoy and inspire one another.
  • Helps one learn about themselves and their values, beliefs, and attitudes.
  • Boosts productivity, resilience, concentration and focus by boosting neurons between the right and left brain hemispheres.

Each of us has the ability to create in our own unique way. Enjoy, celebrate and appreciate whatever your accomplishment may be! 

Updated February 2024, mg.

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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Tell Your Story

Grandmother reading to a child

Recently my granddaughter who lives in North Carolina started first grade virtually.  She was telling me how her online school works.  She seems to like it well enough, but she’d rather go to school.  As we were talking, she asked, “Did you go to school, Grandma?” 

“Yes, Grandma went to school but school for Grandma was very different!” which brought the conversation around to Grandma’s school days.  Since she reads well and is quite computer literate, she recently got an email address.  We agreed that I would write a short story daily telling her all about my school days.  The daily story telling has begun.  Each day I develop a story around a theme such as getting to school, recess, lunchtime, celebrating holidays, a typical school day, my classmates, etc. When I can, I try to add old photos that help tell the story. Since I attended grade school in a rural Nebraska one-room school, I am sure she must think I grew up with the dinosaurs!

While writing these little stories have been a trip down memory lane for me, psychologist suggest that sharing our stories with our grandchildren is an irreplaceable gift.  Researcher, Marshall P. Duke from Emory University has discovered that this shared information nurtures children emotionally and psychologically. Duke writes, “research shows that children who know a lot about their family tend to be more resilient with higher levels of self-esteem, more self-control, better family functioning, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, and better chances for good outcomes when faced with challenges.” As we know these qualities are important for success in life.

So grandparents, tell your story.  Tell them about what life was like when you were growing up.  Tell them about the silly things you did.  Tell them about their parents growing up.  The stories can be written or shared verbally or told in drawings or pictures–anyway that you can express yourself.  All you need is love for your grandchildren and family and desire to open yourself up and invite them to enter your world.  If you don’t live nearby, get creative with Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, email, journals, or even old-fashioned letters.  Sharing stories will melt the distance into nothingness.

For more information on the value of sharing stories see HOW FAMILY STORIES CAN STRENGTHEN AND UNITE.

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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