COLUMBIA — The slow hum of a motor whirls, while needles zoom up and down with each stitch. At a cutting station, adult volunteers use homemade patterns to trim soft flannel fabric. The cuddly material, adorned with kid-inspired designs, rapidly piles up. At another table, a grandmother-granddaughter team separate the fabric for the next step of the sleeper-making process.
All of this effort will result in a batch of sleepers — cocoon-like garments similar to a sleeping bag with shoulder straps — for the newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Columbia Regional Hospital. Each sleeper features a blanket sewn at the spine.
MU Extension 4-H members met Sunday to assemble baby sleepers using the skills they’ve learned in their 4-H sewing project. The goal is to produce nearly 140 baby sleepers for the hospital.
Sleepers, instead of blankets, are used on newborn babies to help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The sleepers can also be used to educate parents on the importance of proper swaddling techniques.
Sarah Patton, a neonatology fellow at Columbia Regional Hospital, said because hospital providers play a large role in developing habits for parents of newborns, the hospital can use the sleepers to promote newborn safety.
“It teaches parents that one blanket is enough,” said Theresa Shettlesworth, a Boone County 4-H project leader.
Shettlesworth organized the sleeper construction project and even designed the pattern for the baby sleepers herself.
Shettlesworth's 10-year-old daughter, Kenlyn, describes her mother’s design for the sleeper as similar to a potato sack.
Shettlesworth’s design uses front snap closures to provide openings for the cords connected to medical monitors. She attributes snaps to increasing sleeper longevity; commercial models feature zippers, which require cutting holes in the fabric for cords to pass through. Her pattern also includes snaps at each shoulder to allow for size adjustments.
The project is charitable, but also allows 4-H members, through the variety of sewing techniques required to make a sleeper, to build their sewing skills, Shettlesworth said.
“I thought it would be a great project for the kids,” she said.
During Sunday’s activity, the kids migrated through different stations to work on various parts of the sleeper, focusing on a bigger purpose with each stitch sewn.
"I just like to help people," Kenlyn Shettlesworth said.
The group plans to deliver the sleepers to the hospital on March 31 so the kids can see how their project will be used to help newborns. The 4-H members' donation means the hospital won't have to buy its own sleepers.
The Missouri 4-H Foundation gave the group a $750 grant to purchase the materials needed for the sewing project.