By Grace Brandt
International Sewing Club is a tight-knit group with more treads than threads
Since 1993 members of the International Sewing Club have met twice a year, coming together from a roughly three-state area. The all-female club members are mostly retired, though there are a few younger faces at annual events, and they each have specially chosen nicknames: Tatter, Buttons, Needle, Zig-Zag.
More importantly, though, they all have motorcycles.
You see, the “sewing” part of the club’s name is a bit of a misnomer, since none of the members actually sew. They included it to pay homage to their mothers, who all sewed. (They really are international, though, thanks to one member from the Netherlands who occasionally flies over to ride with them.) This group is an all-female biker gang, which meets annually to log hundreds of miles together across the Midwest.
“What it amounts to is really empowerment,” said member Ruth “Serge” Cyphers. “You’re just empowering each other, and you’re there for each other. There isn’t a thing any one of them wouldn’t do for me.”
The gang’s all here
The club came about back in 1993 when a small group of women in Southwest Minnesota started riding motorcycles together. Club membership has waxed and waned over the years, with about 17 members right now. Members hail from Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin and come from all walks of life—there’s a nurse, a teacher, a pig farmer, a dental hygienist, a pet groomer, a certified public accountant, several business owners and others.
“It’s all about the camaraderie and the ride,” said charter member and current president Windy “Buttons” Fry. “That’s why we get together.”
Fry added that many of the members have been with the gang since the beginning, and some come and go as life changes.
“A lot of us members have been here for that whole entire time, [but] we’ve also picked up a lot of different folks,” she said.
“We still have ladies in their 30s, 40s 50s and 60s. We’ve had some folks join us for 10 years or so and then go away for a few years and then come back. But most of the people, [they] stay forever.”
The club meets twice a year, once for a “January” meeting (that has since moved to May because of how many times members got snowed in), and a July bike run. Club members don’t have to participate in every event, only what they’re able to fit into their busy schedules. Fry has only missed one ride since she helped found the club even though she has to come all the way from Osceola, Wis.
“It means a lot to me and my life,” she explained. “Some of the girls who are in the club, I only see them on the runs or at the meetings. Whenever I’ve gotten a new employer, I’ve let them know that I’m going to do these two runs a year, and it’s very important to me.”
Members receive nicknames after they’re initiated into the club, which can take place after they participate in two club events. Cyphers was dubbed “Serge” because she has a sewing company, and her fellow members thought she had a serge machine, even though she doesn’t. Fry received her nickname because of her career as a computer programmer hitting “buttons” on her keyboard.
Members also pay annual dues of $25, which go for things like flowers for members who are going through difficult times, club merchandise and events.
“If something’s going on in someone’s life, we all brainstorm to see what we can do to help,” Cyphers explained. “We’re pretty close-knit, even though we see each other only a couple times a year.”
When it comes to the annual meetings, there are always new roads to explore. Members take turns hosting the events which usually last a weekend and include hundreds of miles of riding, along with other events based around the area. They try to do something new and different every time, from attending a show at Chanhassen Dinner Theater to visiting an Amish farm. One highlight was attending a Maverick’s game in Mankato, complete with a shout-out to the gang on the arena’s marquee. They also try to give back, participating in charity runs such as one during their July 2015 trip, where they rode to raise funds to help support veterans.
“We get a lot of ‘wow,’” Cyphers said with a laugh. “That’s when you just drive like you own the place. It’s pretty fun. It’s empowering. There are situations where I’ve been with someone and I’m like, if she can do that, I can do that.”
Fry said her favorite ride happened in the early 2000s, when the gang participated in the “Women in Motion Run,” which trailed around Wisconsin and ended in Madison. It was affiliated with Accident Scene Management, which trains people on how to respond to motorcycle crashes.
“It was a full day of motorcycle greatness and camaraderie,” Fry recalled fondly.
Cyphers has hosted a few events, including the May meeting in 2015, where she invited the other members to stay at her place in Fairmont and led day trips around the southern Minnesota and northern Iowa area. One of the highlights was visiting Iowa’s famous Grotto. Another highlight was when they got the cops called on them while they were hanging out in Cypher’s yard.
“We haven’t gotten into much trouble or anything,” she said. “We’re just a bunch of old ladies having fun. We were sitting in the back of the house around my gas fireplace, and two cops come around the corner. They’d called it in at [the neighbors’ house] … It wasn’t even my house.”
While Fry said that group runs in recent years have been a bit smaller—around 15 members—they’re still holding strong and making an impression wherever they go.
“It’s very impressive to see the ladies riding and parking and doing what we do,” she said.
The International Sewing Club didn’t have a May event this year because of the COVID-19 situation, but a member—DeDe Kotewa—is planning the July ride which is a two-parter this year. The first chunk will take place in mid-July, starting in Crosslake and finishing in Sauk Centre. The second chunk of the ride will take place July 31-Aug. 1 and be in one place—Carrol, Iowa—as Harley-Davidson of Carroll tries to break the world record for the largest women’s motorcycle group ride.
Fry admitted that she’s not sure if everything will work out for the planned ride given the COVID-19 situation, and the fact that many of the gang’s members are more cautious about their health.
“I don’t know about all our people wanting to be around so many people,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like things are getting much better. We’re all getting older, [and] we still need to take care of our health.”
That being said, as soon as it’s safe to ride together again Fry said she’s eager to hit the road.
“I’m game,” she said. “I’m ready.”