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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2007
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Fran Hill's grandmother taught her to sew, and now she hopes to pass the craft to her grandchildren. While she mostly makes clothes for her grandchildren, she recently sold pieces to a Moulton store. Her clothing label, 'Lizzy Lu's and Wheeler 2,' is named after them.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Fran Hill's grandmother taught her to sew, and now she hopes to pass the craft to her grandchildren. While she mostly makes clothes for her grandchildren, she recently sold pieces to a Moulton store. Her clothing label, "Lizzy Lu's and Wheeler 2," is named after them.

Love by the spoolful
Moulton woman reaps what she sews - 2 million stitches and counting - with clothes made for her grandchildren

By Danielle Komis Palmer
dpalmer@decaturdaily.com 340-2447

When Fran Hill of Moulton retired in 2000 after an injury cut her working days short, she was faced with a choice.

Fran Hill sews her own appliques, using fabric scraps, like the ladybug above. The designs for most the appliques are downloaded from the Internet and saved to a disk that is inserted into her high-tech Baby Lock Ellegante sewing machine to make the design.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Fran Hill sews her own appliques, using fabric scraps, like the ladybug above. The designs for most the appliques are downloaded from the Internet and saved to a disk that is inserted into her high-tech Baby Lock Ellegante sewing machine to make the design.
The nurse of nearly 30 years could sit around and feel sorry for herself. Or, she could throw herself into a new project. The spunky, cheerful woman chose the latter.

Hill left behind days in therapy sessions with young people at Decatur General West and exchanged them for days at a sewing machine in a sunny room at her home.

"I loved psychiatric nursing and I would still work if I could," she said. "But God had other plans for me."

When she was a girl, Hill learned to sew from her grandmother on a Singer sewing machine. With her own children, she had sewn a few outfits for special occasions, but not often. But with her newfound free time and raising two grandchildren she hoped to sew for, she suddenly felt compelled to give her old machine a try.

A family tradition

As Hill got to work with needle and thread, it brought back memories of her grandmother sewing her clothes. A photo of a 3-year-old Hill wearing a yellow polka-dotted dress her grandmother made still hangs on her wall. Hill also hopes to pass the craft on to her grandchildren: Trinity, 9 and Wheeler, 8, who live with her and husband Mike; and Lizzy Ezell, 6, who lives in Trussville.

A glance around Hill's sewing room reveals her devotion to the craft — rows of embroidery thread arranged on large spools, regular sewing thread against the back wall, and serging thread on the far side of the room.

An embroidery machine sits on one side of an L-shaped desk, while a computerized Baby Lock Ellegante sewing machine that puts ordinary sewing gadgets to shame sits on the opposite side. When her husband finally told her she could purchase the machine last year, she was out of the house before he could say goodbye.

"I didn't waste any time because I was afraid he'd change his mind," she said, laughing.

She recently took the sewing machine for its annual service check-up, where the technician reported that according to the machine's counter, she'd sewn more than 2 million stitches.

Hill's creations

When she points out all the clothing she's sewn, it's easy to understand how those stitches have added up.

A pale pink Easter dress Trinity wore a few years ago, detailed with rows of embroidered flowers and a large sash that ties in the back, is one of her prize pieces.

Monogrammed polka dot purses are one of Hill's latest projects, after Trinity prodded her to start making them. Hill also sews baby items — little onesies and bibs with sayings like "Dinner is on me" on them, as well as towels, pajamas and other children's clothing.

Trinity said her friends are often jealous of the handmade clothes Hill sews for her.

"They say 'I want that!' " she said. "They wish they could have all my clothes."

Many of the items Hill has sewn are pictured proudly in her sewing room, worn by her grandchildren on special occasions. Also displayed in the sewing room is a sample of a small cat that Wheeler stitched a few years ago. Soon, a quilt Trinity is sewing will also find a place of honor in the room.

'Lizzy Lu's and Wheeler 2'

Hill calls her hobby an addiction and she's recently discovered a way to fund it — selling some of her items at Wynken, Blynken and Nod, a children's store in downtown Moulton.

"I'm not going to set the world on fire-making money," she said. "What I'm interested in is paying for my addiction to sewing. It pays for me to replenish my supplies and start all over again."

The label she recently created for the clothes she makes is "Lizzy Lu's and Wheeler 2," after her three grandchildren (Lu is Trinity's nickname).

While she's usually willing to sew whatever people want, Hill draws the line when it comes to reproducing her work too often.

"I won't make things over and over again so that it looks like it comes from a line," she said. "I want what I do to be unique."

Shoppers in Wynken, Blynken, and Nod often pass up the store-bought clothing and head right to Hill's creations, said owner Nancy Dexter. Hill sews pillowcase dresses and burp pads for the store, too.

"Sewing is a dying art," Dexter said. "There's not many people who do any sewing at all."

Local celebrity

Hill's sewing ability has made her a bit of a celebrity with her grandchildren's friends, and with her own friends, who have nicknamed her Martha Stewart.

Children sometimes run up to her and ask her to make items for them after seeing items "Ms. Fran" has made her grandchildren or their friends, she said.

Trinity and Wheeler's friends also anticipate birthday parties at the Hill home, Hill said. Last year, Hill threw a cookie birthday party for Wheeler and his friends. Each child was given an apron with his or her name embroidered on it and wore the apron as they baked and decorated sugar cookies. Hill still smiles at the memory of how happy the personalized aprons made the children.

While friends have sugested that she start her own sewing business, Hill is not interested. Keeping it small and intimate allows her to see people's reactions to her craft.

"I'm happy spreading joy to a few people," she said, smiling.

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