By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
Giggles are common. Smiles are easy to come by.
Frowns show up on a regular basis. Once in a while, tears make an appearance.
And no matter what, the fingers of this group of women are busy knitting, crocheting, trimming seams, pressing fabric, hugging children.
These are the women of the UFO circle.
Nothing is terribly scientific about it. Nothing is related to conspiracies (unless the subject happens to come up in conversation). It's all about Unfinished Objects sewing and handcrafted projects that just aren't getting done at home.
"It was partly my idea," confesses Earlene Lamb as she holds multiple conversations with others around the table in the basement of the United Methodist Church in La Grande.
The UFO sewing group meets Thursday mornings, between 9 and noon, more or less.
"It's just great to get together," Lamb explains. "And it was easy to get together at the church."
The Methodist Church has been opening its "indoor playground" through the winter on Thursday mornings. Parents bring children to an area that's filled with pre-school-sized tunnels, pull toys and space.
Already having one group of mainly women meeting there for the indoor playground made it logical for others to meet nearby. So the long tables were set up as a place for those with projects to set up, lay out material and talk.
"Women like to do that," Lamb says, laughing.
Across the table, Mildred Davis is sharing stories of a past work experience and the food dishes she was invited to try made by her Mexican and Philippino co-workers. The dishes ranged from tamales to egg dishes and specialty rolls.
Davis adds that she can't stay for the whole morning, since she has to leave before long to serve lunch at the Union County Senior Center.
"This isn't even my church," she adds as an afterthought.
It's not the home church for several of the women who settle in to share camaraderie and sometimes cookies produced by a cooking class in the church's kitchen next door.
Bertha Thompson finds a chair. She settles in for a session with a large, pure white panel that, when she's finished, will be a wall hanging decorated with blue embroidery.
Laughter about her ability to keep the white white goes around the table.
"UFO that's a quilting term," explains Lamb, returning to roots of the group. "Quilters will absolutely know what we're talking about."
Cheyenne Compton, who's about 4 and a bit too reserved to join the children in the "park" area, stops and leans into Lamb's side, watching her fingers work the multi-colored yarn growing on a circular needle.
"What're you making?" Cheyenne finally asks.
"A scarf. It's the easiest thing to make," Lamb replies.
Grinning, Cheyenne watches for a few more seconds.
"It's for me," she decides.
Those around the table who hear her quiet assurance smile and chuckle.
Janet Farrell, the church's pastor, sits down and pulls an off-white, partially completed afghan out.
She'll have to leave for a meeting, in a few minutes, she says. But in the meantime she'll work on the afghan that will someday be a gift for her son and daughter-in-law.
"I come to add any trouble I can jam in," Farrell says, laughing.
It's not always laughter, Lamb adds, that spices the UFO conversations. Lamb recently found sympathetic and calming friends as she faced a biopsy surgery.
"She left here much better than she came," Thompson concludes.
The conversation turns once more to personal working styles.
"I'm bad," Lamb admits. "I get bored, so I do a few minutes on one project, then move on. I have lots of quilts going."
Betty Jones shakes her head. "Unfinished" is a good word for her.
"A lot of times I finish one project and try to find something suitable for another project," she says. "But (the first project's) got to be done."
Sitting next to Jones, Jessica Evans stops and carefully stretches her fingers. She has been steadily working on snipping the seams of a quilt at about quarter-inch intervals. When washed, the clipped seam edges will fray and soften, like the ragged edges of cut-off jeans, she explains.
It is one of any number of baby quilts Evans has made, this one from left-over fabric bits featuring red, white and blue motifs.
"My friend keeps giving me scraps," she explains. "This will probably end up on the back of a couch or chair. I try to do these for all seasons so I can change them around."
There really isn't a plan for each week's gathering, Lamb says. "It just depends," she shrugs. "Every week is different."
Then she brightens.
Another woman, Connie Keith, has volunteered, she announces to the group, to teach beginning knitting or give refresher knitting lessons.
"We'd be sure," Lamb adds in an aside, "to make an expert' available if someone needs or wants help with a project here."
The rest of those gathered explain that there's always someone with extra needles, or yarn, or even pieces of extra fabric.
Lamb tries to explain the UFO group simply, but can do little more than explain how it really is a free-form answer for anyone wishing to gather.
"It's kind of important to have groups like this to share things," she says. "There can be frivolous conversations, to very important discussions."
"And some of us don't get out often," Evans adds, nodding to Lamb who provides her with a ride since Evans doesn't drive.
"This gives me something in the middle of the week to do," Evans adds.
And then the conversations are off again.
Best and worst birthday gifts gotten or given. The joy and the fears about shopping via E-Bay. The Centennial Quilt now hanging at City Hall (Jones did much of the hand-quilting).
"This is just our excuse for eating and drinking together," Lamb says. "We just take a few stitches now and then."
Two more women arrive, one with an apple dessert that draws ooh and ahhs, and a college student just looking for conversation and a few minutes of "away time."
Formal goodbyes don't happen here. The group members come and go by their own clocks.
There's just one thing certain.
Same time, next week.