Tillamook 4-H stitches together a lasting holiday hat-making tradition

TILLAMOOK, Ore. – It began on a rare snowy day in the winter of 2000 on the north Oregon Coast, with two friends who just wanted to keep their heads warm.

With a friend, Alyssa Kershaw (now Custer) a member of the Tillamook 4-H sewing club, decided to make a fleece hat from leftover fabric from a jacket she had made.

“It was probably blue and yellow plaid because that was the pattern of the jacket,” said Custer, who wore the hat while she was volunteering to deliver Christmas baskets for the Salvation Army.

“The Salvation Army director commented that it would be great if more kids had hats,” said Nancy Kershaw, Alyssa’s mother and a longtime Family and Community Health and 4-H Youth Development faculty member for the Oregon State University Extension Service in Tillamook County.

The next year the sewing club started making hats for children enrolled in Tillamook Head Start, a comprehensive preschool for families with incomes at or below the federal poverty guidelines.

The Tillamook Needle & Thread 4-H Club continues to make hats for Tillamook Head Start. The initiative has grown to include hats for Healthy Start, a child and family development program serving counties on the north coast.

“I wouldn’t have thought it would still be happening 20 years later, but it also doesn’t surprise me because in a small town like Tillamook, things like this just keep going,” said Custer, who moved to Philadelphia for college, earned a degree in fashion merchandising, and still lives there. “It’s such a good cause.”

Tillamook 4-H sewing clubs, which have gone by different names over the years, have created roughly 100 hats each year over the last 15 years, said Kershaw, who retired in 2019 but still works part-time and leads the Needle & Thread Club.

“It started as a club project and expanded over time to become a countywide sewing project with kids from multiple clubs coming together to sew fleece hats on Veterans Day for the north, central and south Tillamook County Head Start programs,” Kershaw said. “We also made hats at summer sewing day-camps and it’s a good first-year member sewing project. Over the years we would sew throughout the year to have enough hats ready each winter.”

There wasn’t a sewing workshop on Veterans Day in 2019, so Kershaw planned to have a fleece hat sewing day in March during spring vacation. It was cancelled due to the pandemic, and so were the sewing day-camps.

The club was allowed to meet in person again in October with proper social distancing and face coverings. They got to work sewing hats. Six members met twice a week in October for two hours at a time. Some of the fleece was purchased by the Tillamook 4-H Association and some was donated by local individuals.

By the time they turned off their sewing machines, they had created 40 hats for 4-year-olds in Tillamook Head Start. Kershaw also delivered 60 hats left over from previous years to the Healthy Start program – 14 infant size, six toddler size, and 40 preschool size. The youths choose the patterns. None of the hats are exactly alike.

Alyssa Custer didn’t hang on to that original hat. But she’s proud to have played a part in how the tradition started.

“That’s always so exciting, to be able to see something that you’ve done have an impact in the community,” she said. “Especially when you use your hands for a service project for kids.”

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