Myrtle McGee always enjoyed needlework but couldn't find much time for it.
Just before the Evans resident retired as an occupational therapist from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in 1986, she joined the Augusta chapter of the Embroiderers' Guild of America and has not stopped stitching since.
"I used to do a lot more of the counted type from charts. I enjoy that," McGee said. "As I advanced, I learned I could venture out and try to be a little more creative."
As the regional representative for the guild, 73-year-old McGee grabs her basket loaded with her hand-stitched samples and heads to the First Alliance Church for the guild's monthly meeting.
The nearly 40 active members meet to share ideas, learn new stitches and use their needling talents to brighten others' days.
Show-and-tell time is the favorite part of the meeting, most members at Monday's meeting said.
Members bring in stitching projects of all kinds - crochet, knitting, beadwork, quilting and embroidery - for others to admire.
"They are things that people have just completed, are working on or whatever," McGee said. "It gives you just a birdseye view of possibilities that can be done. When you look at it, most of the people that are just coming in get overwhelmed by it. I did. When I first went, I said, 'Oh, I'll never be able to do that.' Sure you can. It just takes a little time."
Margaret Jordan, a member for the past year, watched wide-eyed as McGee pulled projects from her basket. Jordan hopes to learn from experienced stitchers such as McGee and through the mini-projects at each meeting that give members a chance to learn and practice new stitches.
"There are always more stitches or techniques," Jordan said. "There is always something new to strive for with this."
The guild meets the first Monday of each month at the church at 2801 Ingleside Drive. The $35 annual dues pay for program costs and to bring in nationally trained guild teachers for seminars, said Karen Britton, the group's outgoing 2003 president.
"We recommend (any interested in joining) come and visit for a couple of meetings to get a feel for it," Britton said.
Members' ages range from the guild's first youths at 13 to women in their 80s. Experience levels also range widely among members.
But it's not just the stitching that brings these women together - it's the atmosphere, McGee said.
"The nice thing about the guild is that there are so many people at so many different levels, and everybody is willing to help everybody," McGee said. "If you hit a snag, and you don't know how to do (something), there is always somebody in the group that will instruct you and guide you through it."
Some bring stitching to do during meetings, and others come to admire the handiwork of their peers. But all volunteer their talents to enhance the lives of people around them through education and outreach projects.
The guild often displays their work at local libraries and teaches classes there if enough people are interested. They give seminars to Girl Scouts and Brownies troops, Sunday school class and any other interested organization, Britton said.
They meet for workshops several times a year to create and embellish gowns, booties and caps for premature babies at University Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, McGee said.
The guild also provides stitching kits to bedridden new mothers and white quilted bereavement bags for parents whose babies had died. The bags often include a lock of the baby's hair, the birth and death certificate, a baby ring and information on grief support, Britton said.
Even for the less experienced, the group is a refuge from daily life.
"All you need is the willingness to want to learn," Britton said. "It is wonderful for mental health, especially for those women who have families, husbands, children. They need to get away, and it is time to come in here and enjoy themselves."
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