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The Sewing Hui transitions from COVID masks to Nutcracker costumes and more : Maui Now

  • Sewing Hui volunteers: Back Row – Randy Keller, Diana Woods, Gail Pickholz, Terry Heller, Nancy Betts, Micah Oberg, Lynne Donaldson; Middle Row – Pamela Patrick, Debbie Shimabukuro, Jennifer Oberg, Elaine Gima, Patty Davis; Front Row – Salena Makia, Vicki Shortell. PC: Tad Craig

  • The Sewing Hui volunteer Kim Raymond with a walker/ wheelchair bag.

  • Sewing Hui volunteer Nancy Betts delivers supplies to residents affected by the Maui wildfires.

  • Christmas stockings for Maui keiki displaced by the Maui wildfires.

  • Danelle Keenan and Jennifer Oberg at the first Nutcracker Valley in the open-air theater in Kula (2021). PC: Craig Mullins

About 40 resident volunteers with The Sewing Hui on Maui have moved on from the COVID days of making masks for the community, to a new era of community work that includes making stockings for keiki wildfire survivors and creating elaborate costumes for the Maui’s arts community.

After completing the Maui Face Mask Project in May of 2020, volunteers still wanted to do sewing projects for the community; so Jennifer Oberg, Director of The Sewing Hui began hosting the group in her studio on Baldwin Avenue in Makawao.

“We grew so much that I had to move into a larger space in June 2021,” she said. Now the group has outgrown that space and needs more room once again.

Over the last three-and-a-half years, The Sewing Hui has made more than 30,000 handmade items for the Maui community and helped more than 60 organizations.

“We create sewing initiatives to benefit the Maui community, for healthcare providers, schools, nonprofits, community and performing arts organizations,” said Oberg. “Items we’ve made include masks, curtains, lap blankets, clothing for the unsheltered, wheelchair and walker bags for kupuna, May Day and Lei Day costumes for Maui schools and costumes for performances.”

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The list goes on—including a recent effort to gather 3,500 handmade pillowcases from sewing groups all over the US for residents displaced by the Maui wildfires. The Hui also ran a sewing supply drive for Maui sewists and quilters who lost everything in the fire.  

The volunteers are also making Christmas stockings for keiki displaced by the fire as part of a project that runs through Dec 10.

After COVID comes costume making:

The Sewing Hui is now in year three of creating costumes for The Nutcracker Ballet by Alexander Academy Performing Company, which is scheduled to perform at the Castle Theater of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. 

Mother Ginger designed by Sophia Gallegos and made by The Sewing Hui (2021). PC: Chelsea Fine

“In early 2021, we were contacted by Danelle Keenan, the director of Alexander Academy Performing Company.  She had a vision to do a full-length production of The Nutcracker Ballet and asked if we could help,” said Oberg.  

Specifically, the company needed help with the period costumes for the opening party scene, Mother Ginger, and the Rat King.

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“My background is in costume design and construction, so I was very interested and happy to help.  Our Sewing Hui had been making masks all through COVID, and I felt that taking on a costume project might be just the thing they needed,” said Oberg.

Candy Cane costumes, made by The Sewing Hui. (2022) PC: Chelsea Fine

During COVID, Keenan said she was particularly motivated to provide opportunities for students.

“It was very clear how powerful and essential our dance program was for our students’ mental health and well-being,” said Keenan.   “I knew we had to keep performances happening to keep them motivated, connected and excited.   I have always wanted our Academy to do the full length Nutcracker, and I knew now was the time to create something positive,” she said.

The obstacle that first year was finding a stage since many venues were unavailable for public performances in 2021 due to COVID.

“Danelle and her husband Andrew magically pulled together a theater and stage out of an empty, half-finished house in Kula,” said Oberg. 

Rehearsing in the open-air theater in Kula for the first Nutcracker Ballet (2021) PC: Jennifer Oberg
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“There was only framing done to most of the house, so it was open air,” Keenan recalled.  “There was a roof over the audience and part of the stage to protect from sun and rain, but no roof over the dressing rooms.”

The stage had simple lighting powered by a generator, and no electricity.  

“Both Saturday shows were sunny and beautiful.  But then, the memory that makes me never want to perform outside again – in the middle of the second act it started pouring rain.” 

– Danelle Keenan, director of Alexander Academy Performing Company

“All of our dressing rooms were drenched.  Our stage was soaking wet.  We stopped the show to use every towel to dry it.   Our leads did their best to keep their pointe shoes dry,” said Keenan.  

By the end of Waltz of the Flowers the performers were dancing barefoot.

Dancing barefoot after the rain storm (2021) PC: Chelsea Fine
Dancing barefoot after the rain storm (2021) PC: Chelsea Fine

“I remember seeing them wring out their ballet shoes.   I wanted to cry, however I knew it wouldn’t do any good.  So I cheered on the students… I now remember all the help backstage, all the parents pitching in to make it work, the support from our audience,” said Keenan.

Oberg called it the most inspiring show she’d ever been to. “The audience was so excited and supportive,” she said.

For the 2022 production, The Sewing Hui continued helping with costumes, making the infamous Rat Army, Waltz of the Flowers and other costumes. By then, Seabury Hall was able to open up their venue, and the Academy was relieved to have a roof over their heads.

The Rat Army costumes designed by Denise Green and Micah Oberg, made by The Sewing Hui. (2022) PC: Chelsea Fine
Waltz of the Flowers, costumes made by The Sewing Hui. (2022) PC: Chelsea Fine

This year, the production moves to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, a long-term vision that Keenan has held onto.

“It has been scary to take on financially, but this community always steps up and helps when help is needed… I am proud of who we have been and who we are becoming as an academy over the past 30 years.  We have such talented, dedicated, caring teachers, staff and families,” said Keenan.

The Nutcracker Ballet. (2022) PC: Chelsea Fine
Party scene costumes made by The Sewing Hui (2022) PC: Chelsea Fine

She said the academy’s 200 students are fortunate to have a safe place to express themselves, connect with others, discover their creativity and explore.   “My heart expands every time I walk into the studio and see each student of all ages in class. I know we are making a positive difference,” she said.

For Oberg, the journey from COVID to community contribution continues. “We are so happy to be part of this production for a third year in a row, to bring joy to our community in the wake of the recent wildfires,” said Oberg.

The Alexander Academy Snow Corp. dancers hugging after their performance, seen from above the stage. (2022) PC: Micah Oberg

In addition to residents, The Sewing Hui also reaches out to visitors who want to sew during their visit to Maui.  Every there are 1-2 visitors in the Hui’s sewing sessions, coming from all over the continental US, Canada and abroad. 

  • If you’d like to help make costumes, contact Jennifer Oberg at [email protected].
  • If you’d like to help make Christmas stockings for keiki displaced by the Lahaina fire, contact Lynne Donaldson at [email protected].
Source: Maui News

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