Leanna Wilson

Just sew busy

LeAnna Wilson (left) was looking forward to doing some sewing during her retirement from JCCC. Now, less than two years later, she’s teaching sewing instead – inside the very walls of the place she retired from. 

Wilson served as director of community services at JCCC until her retirement in October 2010. Rather than while away her hours behind the hum of the sewing machine, however, she decided to teach Apparel Construction I and II (FASH 122 and 123) to the next generation of sewers. 

“I have just always liked helping people,” Wilson said. “Not just teaching, but helping people out.” 

Wilson’s own love of sewing started when she was a child seated at her grandmother’s feet, watching the adept seamstress at work. As a youngster, Wilson made doll clothes, some of which she still possesses. It’s nearly six decades later, and a lot has changed in the sewing world. 

“Today, people are more creative sewers. More than likely they started with something small, some crafty stuff, and then the next thing they know, they’re thinking, ‘What’s the next thing I can do?’” she said. 

Her grandmother’s standards had to bend a little in the face of this new creativity. Things don’t necessarily have to be perfect in order to be wearable in the 21st century, Wilson explained. 

Wilson’s grandmother also didn’t have the Internet for help. Skills were learned from mentors who knew perhaps only the one “right” way to construct a garment. A contemporary garment creator can read sewing blogs and post on sewing discussion boards. “You could spend a solid week reading sewing blogs and never do anything else all day,” Wilson said. With that sheer amount of input, garment creators are bound to find new ways to do things. 

The Internet cannot, however, teach the hands-on help that Wilson offers her Apparel Construction students. Student Andrea Soper said Wilson helped her decode the complicated directions that accompanied her pattern for a button-down shirt. 

“Then she showed me how to do it, which was very helpful to me because I’m a visual learner,” Soper said. She said she enrolled in the class because she watched her mother sewing and wanted to improve her own skills. 

Wilson empathizes with the frustrations of a beginner. When Wilson graduated from clothes for dolls to clothes for herself, the first garment she made was a pair of purple pajamas with white eyelet lace. 

“Oh, I was very proud of that,” she said, laughing. “Then I tried to get them on, and I couldn’t even get my legs into them!” Wilson had sewn the leg openings shut and had to rip out the seams and try again. 

That tenacity also came in handy when she faltered during her first go-round at college and tried again at JCCC. She graduated with her associate’s degree, and then continued to MidAmerica Nazarene University (MNU) for her bachelor’s degree in business education. Her terminal degree is a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction. 

In addition to the JCCC apparel class, Wilson also teaches in the evenings for a degree completion program at MNU. She’s confident she’ll get back to her own sewing soon, but it may have to wait a while longer. 

“I’ve always liked that I could have clothes that nobody else had,” she said. “I always – and still do to this day – think it’s clever how I can take a piece of fabric, cut it up, and then sew it all back together. I have always been curious as to how a piece of fabric would look made up into an article of clothing.”