By Shelley Grieshop
ST. MARYS -- The hum of sewing machines is drowned out by the voices of the chatty students in Room 1.
Art teacher Mary Smith scans the class for frustrated faces as she walks among the seventh- and eighth-graders working on colorful quilts at Holy Rosary Catholic School.
"I really didn't want to do this because, uhm, it's like sewing," says Michael Wiley, as he ties another knot on his Cincinnati Bengals' black and orange checked quilt.
Classmate Nick Wilker, working nearby on his own checkered creation, adds "it's not manly."
Student Derek Heistan agrees aloud with the macho comments, and the boys further discuss how silly they feel working with sewing machines and needles. "Is that why you're making a pink one?" Wilker says, teasing Heistan, as the other students chuckle.
The hands-on project of making lap-sized quilts is in its third year and has been branded a success by teachers and students. The children seem to enjoy making something they can keep a lifetime, Smith says.
"I teach music, too, and you can sing a song but then it's gone," she explains. "You have a memory of it, but that's it. The quilts are theirs to keep."
The students meet only once a week so the project is stretched throughout a nine-week period. Smith came up with the idea after St. Marys resident Beryl Makley donated his wife's sewing machine to the class after she passed away.
Several mothers also voluntarily bring in sewing machines and help instruct the children on their use. The venture is quite educational as students learn the elements of art, sketching, creating patterns and color.
But it also can be trying.
"One kid in this class broke all three sewing machines in one day," Wiley says with a grin.
The students choose their own themes and patterns and most pick out their own material. The boys concentrate mainly on sports themes while the girls opt for bright colors like lime green and rose.
Heistan says the hardest part so far has been attaching the patchwork pieces.
"I've mis-sewed a lot of stuff, and then I have to restitch it. That's the part I hate," he says.
Emily Bayhan chose a royal blue material with little green frogs for her quilt.
"I like frogs," she says, as Smith reminds her the amphibious creature also is the character the school chose for Right to Read Week.
Wiley confesses to a few not-so-perfect stitches on the quilt he plans to place on his bed.
"I messed up a couple of spots, like here," he says, pointing to two offset squares. "But I guess it's not too bad."
Eric Wilker, who chose a very boyish theme of dragons and flames for his quilt, says he really had reservations about the project when he first started.
"I was like not wanting to do this," he says. "But the whole class had to do it so I knew it wouldn't be so bad. It's better than taking a test."
Classmate Jacob Luthman admits the sewing skills he and the other boys consider "sissy" might actually come in handy someday.
"I guess you never know when you're going to need to sew something," he adds, with a shrug of his shoulders.