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Posts Tagged ‘sewing machine’

Photo: Margaret Jankowski.
Students in a 2013 sewing class test their new skills on a suite of machines donated by the nonprofit Sewing Machine Project to a community center in New Orleans. 

There have always been a few followers of this blog who quilt, weave, knit, crochet, or sew, and I’m hoping they will like today’s focus on a nonprofit that harnesses the multifaceted power of sewing. Richard Mertens reported about it at the Christian Science Monitor.

“A tsunami helped Margaret Jankowski understand the real value of a sewing machine. Like many girls of her generation, she had learned to sew at an early age. Her mother taught her on an old Singer Featherweight, and she learned the basics by hemming her father’s handkerchiefs. As an adult, she bought her own clothes off the rack but sewed for her first child. … She taught classes at a sewing shop, ‘preaching the gospel of sewing,’ she says. …

“Then, in December 2004, a tsunami hit Sri Lanka and other coasts around the Indian Ocean, leveling communities, hurling wooden fishing boats far inland, and killing 230,000 people. … What touched Ms. Jankowski most deeply was the story of a woman returning to her ruined village. The woman had worked for years to save enough to buy a sewing machine, enabling her to work as a tailor and giving her a future. Now it was gone. …

“She resolved to send sewing machines to Sri Lanka. ‘I thought maybe I could collect a few of these machines that people are getting rid of anyway,’ she says. She explained her idea on a local news program and was inundated with machines. She raised money for voltage converters and shipping, and in 2005, with the help of the American Hindu Association, sent five boxes each to five orphanages in India and Sri Lanka, each packed with toys, medical supplies, fabric, and the most precious cargo – a sewing machine.

“ ‘They were used to sew for kids,’ she says. ‘They were also used to teach kids a trade, which I felt was really important.’

“It didn’t end there. Ms. Jankowski went on to start the Sewing Machine Project, a small organization that redistributes used machines. It’s a mission that springs from a love for an old craft and a belief in its practical and redemptive possibilities today. …

“In 16 years the project has shipped 3,350 machines around the world – and across town. It’s sent them to coffee pickers in Guatemala, women who help vulnerable girls in Guam, and war widows in Kosovo. It’s sent them to programs that help refugee women in Detroit, incarcerated women in Mississippi, and sewers of Mardi Gras outfits. … In these and other places, unwanted machines find new uses. In many places sewing can be a livelihood, whether in a factory job or at home.

For those trapped in poverty, Ms. Jankowski says, sewing ‘is a way out.’

“Sewing is also a way forward for immigrant and refugee women in Detroit, says Gigi Salka. Ms. Salka is the director of the B.O.O.S.T. training program at Zaman International, a nonprofit that serves poor and marginalized women and children, including immigrants and refugees, in the Detroit area. … Zaman began offering a two-year sewing instruction program. Graduates earn money doing alterations and creating made-to-order clothing, often from their homes. …

“The pandemic disrupted the classes but also created new opportunities for the women. ‘We gave them fabric. They took machines home. They made masks,’ Ms. Salka says. ‘In a population where five dollars makes a big difference, any supplemental income, any extra dollar is a dollar they can have. … Sewing is very empowering. You see it in a population that’s lost hope; the ability to create a product is very powerful to them. They’re so proud.’ …

“This idea is being tested in Rankin County, Mississippi, where a local woman, Renee Smith, persuaded prison officials to allow her to start a sewing program for women in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Her aim was to get help producing reusable menstrual pads for girls in countries like Uganda and Haiti where girls frequently stay home from school while menstruating, or quit school altogether because they lack access to sanitary supplies. … The inmates were glad to have something to do, she says, but sewing for distant schoolgirls also gave them a sense of purpose. …

“Some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Sewing Machine Project have been the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans, an African American community known for the elaborate feathered and beaded suits they wear for Mardi Gras. That effort, too, started with a disaster. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the city, hitting African American neighborhoods especially hard. Cherice Harrison-Nelson, also known as Queen Reesie and an early collaborator with the Sewing Machine Project, says that making Mardi Gras suits is an important cottage industry in the city, but that many people lost their machines in the hurricane.”

Read more at the Monitor, here.

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