In the back of Gloria Horn Sewing Studio in Plum, eight women sat at high-tech sewing machines, intent on completing their projects, yet cheerful for having the fellowship of each other's company.
It was a scene reminiscent of a sewing bee of colonial times. But these women -- members of the Monroeville/Murrysville chapter of the American Sewing Guild -- were on a mission to complete 500 stockings by next Monday.
Mission accomplished. The stockings will be sent to troops overseas for the holidays.
Included in them will be notes written by students at Newlonsburg School in Murrysville.
Always on the lookout for charitable sewing projects, guild member Margie McGinn found this cause, called Project Santa, on the Web. It is sponsored by the Marine Corps Family Foundation, which supports deployed soldiers and their families.
The women met at Gloria Horn Sept. 29 for one of many workdays scheduled for sewing the simple cotton-lined stockings, topped with a white felt cuff. Much of the brightly colored fabric came from the stashes of guild members.
About 10 inches high, the stockings will be filled with candy, gum, mints, cereal bars and nuts.
Those sent to soldiers in Iraq will include neck coolers -- long tubes of fabric in camouflage colors, also stitched by local members. They are stuffed with a teaspoon of cooling crystals. Sometimes called "cool ties," the coolers -- once soaked for 30 minutes in cold water -- provide relief from the desert heat.
Mrs. McGinn is in the process of approaching schools, requesting elementary students to write short notes to soldiers to include in the stockings.
"These aren't works of art. They're works of love," she said.
For 20 years, this chapter of the guild, the first in the Pittsburgh area, has used its creative efforts to assist charitable causes throughout the year.
In 2006, guild member Arlene Seger created a dignity gown for breast cancer patients to wear while undergoing radiation treatments. Unlike a hospital gown, it allows the patients to open and close each side separately while receiving treatments.
Kits for sewing the gowns contain all of the necessary materials, including fabric, velcro and directions. They are compiled by the guild and left in local quilt and sewing shops so that any sewer can take one and make a gown.
Locally, more than 50 patients receive dignity gowns each month, at no charge. The idea has caught on nationally, and sewers in New York, Texas, Virginia and Nevada also are crafting robes for cancer patients.
The guild also creates "teaching dolls" for children anticipating a surgery. The plain cotton dolls are designed so that a doctor can draw on them, helping to explain what a child should expect from a procedure.
Taking their love for their hobby a step further, members quilt blankets for Project Linus, a national cause to provide new blankets to children who are seriously ill or traumatized. They also make pillow cases for sick children. Proceeds earned from other projects go to nonprofit groups such as local food banks.
On a national level, the guild is striving to promote sewing to a younger, more diverse population, member Michele Brisker explained. Thanks to the media and television programs such as "Project Runway," young women and men are sewing in increasing numbers.
Large cities throughout the country are starting to see "sewing lounges" -- like "book stores for sewers." Enthusiasts can rent time on sewing machines or take classes, explained Abby Wright, communications director for the organization's national headquarters in Houston.
"As a whole, the industry is working together. ASG serves as a networking hub to tune people in," she said.
The group sponsors national contests for young sewers, up through age 30. Many neighborhood groups are catering to younger generations.
Locally, Mrs. McGinn said she is interested in approaching youth groups to participate in Project Santa and other charitable causes.
"I'd like to promote education and teach children 12 years [old] and up so they can help a charity," she said.
Candy donations for the stockings may be dropped off at Curves on William Penn Highway in Murrysville.
Freelance writer Laurie Bailey can be reached at email@example.com .