Naomi Hedden finds unique ways to repurpose old T-shirts

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Gratitude for Growers

By Shelley Spillman

This is the final installment of Gratitude for Growers, a series about growers, farmers and craftsmen of the Anderson County Farmers Market. The stories have celebrated farmers market vendors and allowed readers to have a greater appreciation of the local faces who produce.

Growing up, Naomi Hedden recalls her mother, Patricia Sowles, meticulously sewing buttons on nine pairs of pajamas she made for her three youngest sons.

“My mother crocheted until the day she died,” said Hedden.

Sowles made rugs, blankets and dollies, including lovely tiny dollies for earrings.

On a particularly special occasion, her oldest brother Robert’s wedding, her mother made all the girls’ dresses and let them choose the style and the pattern. Hedden said hers was green with a sheer soft floral print, ruffles and cap sleeves.

Aside from the rare special occasion, Sowles mostly used her sewing and crochet skills to take care of her husband, James, and their eight children.

“Mom’s crafty talents went into making necessary things for the family,” Hedden said. “Even though we were dirt poor, she still always fixed us a balanced meal with a meat and two vegetables.”

Hedden can still remember when she was 12 years old, picking up some needles and sitting next to her mother to learn to crochet.

The first thing Hedden said she ever crocheted was a potholder from old filter fiber her father got from the factory he worked at in Crown Point, Ind.

The Sowles family moved to Anderson County in 1971 when Hedden was only 8-years-old. They lived on an area with more than 300 acres of land. She said her father would often let out a loud cattle call to round up the kids to come in for dinner.

“I loved it,” Hedden said with a smile.

It’s no surprise that Hedden acquired her mother’s prowess for sewing and crocheting. Hedden, a mother of five, had a bright idea to recycle her children’s old T-shirts to make rugs. She said it seemed like a waste to toss the T-shirts with a few holes or because they were faded when they could be repurposed.

A few months after making her first T-shirt rug, a friend noticed the rug, commented on it and asked if she could have it. Hedden didn’t mind and watched her friend knock the dirt off the floor mat and snatch it up. That’s when she got the idea that maybe she could sell her creations.

Since then, Hedden has made all sorts of rugs from different patterns including quilt, cross-stitch and designs she sketches on graph paper. She’s also made some intricate designs of a black horse with eye-catching rainbow hair, a large red, yellow and blue colored Macaw and whatever else customers request.

Hedden said she gets the majority of the T-shirts from family and friends, but occasionally she’ll go to Goodwill to buy T-shirts if she’s looking for a particular color.

“It’s relaxing. There are few patterns I repeat because I like to do different things,” she said.

Her favorite part of selling her rugs at the Old Depot Farmers Market, she said, is the ability to meet with the customer. Sometimes she even sets up a booth where she crochets in front of farmers market customers to show them how to make a recycled T-shirt rug. She said her website the-shirt-off-your-back.com gives instructional tips on how to make the rugs too.

Hedden is always experimenting with different materials including cotton and denim. Currently, she is working with camouflage T-shirts to see what patterns she can create.

Every time Hedden picks up her needles to crochet, it reminds her of her late mother.

She said she credits her skills to her hardworking mother who tried to teach her children all she knew to make them more self-sufficient.

“She taught us so much,” Hedden said.