$n$ PANORAMA - The wonders of wool

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Michaela Nordheim

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On snowy Biscuit Ridge, Michaela Nordheim models a wool outfit she designed and tailored.

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Making all the lines meet in the center of a cap required a number of do-overs.

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Wool button clasp.

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The three outfits that have earned Michaela Nordheim, center, trips to national competion are displayed. Sister Carla Nordheim Thorson, left, and mother, Debby Nordheim, hold items from the outfits, all made from wool fabric.

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Mindy consulted the Vogue sewing book to learn how to make a frog closure.

Fifteen-year-old Michaela Nordheim of Dixie is taking her mother to Reno Jan. 20-23.

It will be Debby Nordheim's sixth trip to a national Make it With Wool contest, and Michaela's third national competition.

Michaela will model the four-piece ensemble she designed and tailored with wool fabrics.

She earned her trip to Reno by winning the junior division of the state Make it With Wool competition held in early November in Moses Lake in conjunction with the Washington State Sheep Producers Association convention.

The competition is sponsored by the Washington Wool Growers Auxiliary and the Washington State Sheep Producers. The American Sheep Industry and American Sheep Industry Women sponsor the national contest.

After wearing the garments in front of the judges, she and other contestants will submit the outfits for intense scrutiny of workmanship. Entries are scored one-third on appearance and fashion and two-thirds on construction.

For the Nordheim family, sewing is a family affair, with father John and brother Cody contributing their ideas for designs.

Debby learned to sew from her mother when she was in grade school. "Mother said by junior high I had surpassed her," Debby said.

Michaela's older sisters, Mindy Nordheim Puller of Princeton, Idaho, and Carla Nordheim Thorson of Walla Walla are veterans of the Make it With Wool Contest, both having gone to national competition twice with garments they made.

Debby is leader of the Biscuit Ridge 4-H Club, and the Nordheim children have been the only members, mostly due to reluctance of potential members to travel to their home outside Dixie. The children are veterans of showing sheep, hogs, steers and horses. Carla and Mindy both served on the fair court.

A wide doorway in their Biscuit Ridge Road farmhouse serves as a rack to display some of the dresses, skirts, jackets and blouses the girls have made. Others are spread over the back of the sofa.

On display is the light green jacket and trousers with military-style details Michaela wore to the national competition in Nashville. And the brown jeans-style pants, plaid vest, vest and matching hat she wore in San Diego. She was third runner-up in both competitions.

Carla's long dark green wool gown, and matching bolero flecked with almost 3,000 gold Czech beads, conjures up for her memories of a summer spent sewing on beads for four hours after a day of driving a truck in harvest.

Although most of the clothes are made of wool, Mindy's rich blue velvet dress, featuring a beaded bodice front and matching bolero with satin frog closure, exudes elegance.

The years have rendered some of the garments too small for their creators, but the outfits still get used, Debby said. Fellow 4-H members borrow them to compete in the Lad and Lassie contest at the Walla Walla Frontier Days Fair and Rodeo. The contest requires contestants to wear wool while leading their lambs around the ring.

As Michaela has advanced through the 4-H sewing program, each project has offered new challenges, some of her own making.

With a flair for design, she found a coat in a catalogue with a gathered collar, and decided she wanted that as an element of her new jacket.

"It keeps me on my toes," said Debby. "They're always challenging me. They've learned a lot about flat patterns and fitting."

For dependable "how-to" instructions, Debby and her daughters rely on "Vogue Sewing," which she calls "the bible" of sewing.

For Michaela's outfit, she started with a Vogue pattern Debby used in high school, and modified it to include the features Michaela wanted, and to ensure a good fit.

The outfit includes a cream-colored blouse of lightweight wool, a plaid vest, and a dark-brown straight skirt. It is accessorized with bead and stone necklace, earrings, bracelet and brown leather knee-high boots with 3-inch heels.

Besides the gathered collar, the jacket features covered buttons, bound buttonholes, midriff waist, knife pleats and modified princess line bodice.

The jacket fabric is a Pendleton jacquard woven with a gingko leaf pattern. To give a nod to the gingko tree's oriental origins, Michaela chose an oriental-patterned brocade for the lining.

Despite her clothing construction skills and a knack for design, Michaela does not envision a career in the fashion field. Instead, the Walla Walla High School sophomore is looking towards a career as a large-animal veterinarian or a doctor.

However, she plans to continue the tradition of her mother and grandmother:

"Definitely when I have kids I'll be teaching them to sew."

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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