GENOA – Some men have a “man cave,” a personal sanctuary where they can watch sports games and hang out with friends. Debbie Howie of Genoa has a “woman cave” in her basement, where she can sew, quilt and craft creatively.
The walls of Howie’s “woman cave” are lined with neatly organized spools of thread and hanging finished projects. Her sewing machine sits in the corner with the most sunlight, and she has an entire kitchen island for space to cut and measure fabric.
In her spare time, Howie enjoys making gifts for friends, family and neighbors, including quilts, potholders, centerpieces and pillows.
Howie and her mother, Lorrayne Cabral, have both made quilts for Illinois Valley Quilts of Valor, a group that gives patriotic quilts to veterans on Veterans Day. Howie also has made a memory bear, or a teddy bear made from an item of a loved-one’s clothing, for Kishwaukee Hospice.
Howie met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss Quilts of Valor, memory bears and other projects she has been working on.
Milton: When did you start sewing and quilting?
Howie: I’ve sewed all my life. I used to make clothes for my kids when they were younger. I first began quilting with my mom about 15 years ago. We signed up to make a mystery quilt, where you don’t know what it is until the end. Since then, my mom has made three dozen quilts, and I do a lot of embroidery quilts. This year, I’ve made six quilts. I’m retired, so I can sew any time I want.
Milton: How did you find out about Quilts of Valor?
Howie: My friend Terry Johnson needed help piecing quilts, or sewing them together, for Quilts of Valor. My mom ran into her, and she knew that both of us were sewers. She asked if we would piece together quilts for Illinois Valley Quilts of Valor. I just pieced the quilt together, then someone else quilted it. Then, when the quilts are finished, they are presented to vets on Veterans Day. I have done two quilts, and my mom did one. I just finished my second a couple of weeks ago. The quilts are red, white and blue and follow a certain pattern. They’re very easy to do and they turn out very pretty.
Milton: Why do you think Quilts of Valor is a good idea?
Howie: I think that it’s great that they are given away on Veterans Day. My dad was in the National Guard and my brother was a veteran. I love that the quilts are helping a veteran, even if we don’t know who. They will see our names, everyone who helped create the quilt.
Milton: What is a memory bear?
Howie: Memory bears are teddy bears made from clothing. I made a teddy bear for Kishwaukee Hospice after learning about the program from a guest speaker at the Genoa Women’s Club. I learned more about the program through Carol Engel. You complete the bear in stages: the first Saturday, you cut the fabric, then you sew, then you stuff and pin the bear. The teddy bear I made was a T-shirt from a woman’s father, a gift for her children, his grandchildren. The bears are made in memory of a person, usually someone that is deceased.
Milton: Do you take sewing and quilting classes?
Howie: I’m always taking classes to learn different techniques. I take classes at “Stitching on State” in Hampshire and “Sewing Concepts” in Carpentersville. I recently took a class to make an apron, and another to make a wall hanging. I like to learn. It keeps me active and I love meeting new people and making friends.
Milton: What do you like the most about sewing?
Howie: I love to sew, I think it’s a lost art. There are so many different techniques and ways of doing it. I like doing it the old-fashioned way, by hand. It’s also easy to learn how to sew, and a lot of it is trial and error. Beginners’ classes teach how to make easy things, like pillowcases and pajama bottoms. Sewing is a process, but you have to begin at step 1. You have to never be afraid of trying something new. There is no perfect quilt, a finished quilt is the best quilt.