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Rags to riches

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Mary Ann Yeneskie, Grier City, creates spectacular holiday wreaths using scraps of fabric, a skill she recently taught others at a pre-Thanksgiving workshop.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Mary Ann Yeneskie, Grier City, creates spectacular holiday wreaths using scraps of fabric, a skill she recently taught others at a pre-Thanksgiving workshop.
Published December 03. 2010 05:00PM

What's the best thing to do with your scrap fabric?

"It's really easy," says Mary Ann Yeneskie, of Grier City. Take a few hours of your time and turn all of your extra fabric into stunning holiday wreaths.

All it takes is a Philips head screwdriver, a circle of straw, and a touch of imagination.

Yeneskie and over a dozen friends gathered recently at the Barnesville manse of Ronald and Lorraine Blickley for an in-depth workshop on creating colorful and unique rag wreaths.

Actually, the group of vibrant women is a story in itself. The informal coffee club is comprised of over 30 artists, educators, crafters and experts in many areas. The women hail from Schuylkill and Carbon counties, in towns such as Quakake, Lehighton, and many points in between. They gather every few weeks at the Blickleys' Bernhard Road estate to share their talents and to focus on culture and the arts.

Among those on hand were Joanne Valentine, Peggy Blickley, Donna Milot, Dolores Sheeto, Cathy Riotto, Shelly Yost, Debbie McKinley, Lynne Stiltner, Rita Masinsky, Cathy Schimpf, Lucille Spaar and others.

"Since I moved back home, I've found there are so many talented women in this area," says Lorraine, the former Lorraine Zukovich, a 1972 graduate of Tamaqua Area High School.

On this day, the women dabbled in the art of rag wreath making, coached by Yeneskie, who spent the past 15 years honing her skills in a hobby she picked while visiting a regional fabric shop.

The creations are based on a standard 12-inch or 14-inch straw wreath found at any arts and craft store.

The only tools required are a screwdriver, a cutting mat, and a standard fabric cutter. The women typically use a corrugated rolling cutter which somewhat resembles a pizza cutter, but creates a jagged edge similar to pinking shears.

Yeneskie says the key to making a beautiful wreath is to select a fabric where a printed pattern appears on both sides, or where both sides have color regardless of the pattern.

Scraps are ideal. The fabric can come from a variety of sources. When multiple patterns are used, the end result is a unique wreath with a sense of whimsy and tons of visual interest.

"A 14-inch wreath will use about 3 1/2 yards of material. A 12-inch wreath uses less, maybe 2 1/2," says Yeneskie.

The material is cut into 4" squares if making a larger wreath, or 3" squares for a smaller one. "The first thing I do is cut the rough edge," says Yeneskie. "It doesn't have to be perfect."

Yeneskie has perfected the technique using a trial-and-error method. For instance, in earlier years she used a glue gun to secure the fabric to the straw but that technique was too messy and unnecessary, she says. Another pointer, she Yeneskie, is that you don't need to prepare the straw wreath in any way. In fact, you don't even need to cut the cellophane protecting the straw. In fact, keeping the wrapper on the wreath helps to keep the work space cleaner.

"So you can leave the plastic wrapper on," she says.

You begin by pushing a 4" square of cloth into the straw by using the tip of the screwdriver. Then you do another about " away. You then simply continue the process around the wreath, ultimately starting a new row once you've gone a full 360 degrees.

"The fuller it is, the nicer it's going to be," says Yeneskie.

Some of the women used new holiday print fabrics, opting to purchase the fabric rather than use scraps. One spent about $35 for those supplies. Others spent nothing, simply using whatever fabric they had on hand.

"I'm using scraps," says Cathy Riotto of Barnesville, who produced an outstanding wreath featuring colorful rows of assorted patterns.

Others used stripes, plaids and even gingham prints. One woman used a fabric that featured an Easter egg print, creating an Easter wreath. Two others created blue-and-white Penn State wreaths.

Shelly Yost of Barnesville used red-and-white striped fabric to create a festive Christmas wreath.

"Maybe I'll hang candy canes on it," said Yost.

Debbie McKinley of Hometown purchased several yards of special holiday material from JoAnn Fabrics in Allentown. Her fabric featured an elaborate pattern of red, white and green Christmas images. The end result was a distinctly festive Yuletide hanger.

Yeneskie says the more wreaths you make, the more skilled you'll become. "You'll make your own little tricks," she explains.

Donna Milot of Brockton already figured out a few smart moves. Instead of buying several yards of fabric on a roll, she purchased a printed tablecloth. "It was 60" by 102", she said. "Sheets will work, too. You don't have to buy 500-thread count. You can use cheap fabrics."

Yeneskie says that's the beauty of the hobby. It needn't be expensive and it's not time consuming. You can sit with a few friends and, while you chat, produce wreaths that can be the centerpiece of your decor for Easter, Christmas, birthdays or any season of the year.

Yeneskie believes in the sheer beauty of simplicity. And rag wreaths are the perfect way to showcase that principle. It's a craft that makes sense, she says.

"It really isn't complicated."

When the session was finished, the women agreed. Rag wreaths are a win-win.

It's a hobby everyone can do and the results will be stunning every time.

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