Our Make Welcome sewing classes started back at the end of July. Since that time, the women have learned so much. Most had never used a sewing machine before, so we started by learning how to thread the machines, adjust the speed of sewing by altering the pressure on the foot pedal (harder for some than you might imagine), sew straight lines, press seams, turn corners, zig-zag edges, and more. We’ve worked on a variety of projects including very simple unlined tote bags, reversible headbands, fabric flowers, small quilted diaper changing pads, and most recently a more complicated lined tote bag, using the burlap rice bags that the women bring from home.
I am encouraged each week by the perseverance and progress of the women, but more than that, I am encouraged by the blossoming that is happening. Let me explain…
All of the women currently in our Make Welcome group are from Burma, but they are from different ethnic groups with different religions, cultures, and languages. For most of them, Burmese is a common tongue, though not a mother tongue. As we work in the sewing room, we must often go slowly, asking for help in translating instructions, struggling to explain and clarify, and working across two or three languages to communicate. But, little by little, stitch by stitch, we are crafting not just tote bags, but relationships. The women help each other correct mistakes, laugh together, and sometimes, laugh at their American teachers struggling to learn and usually mispronouncing Burmese words and phrases.
We are getting to know each other’s children, visit in each other’s homes, and share concerns and joys. Friendships are beginning to blossom. Though none of the women had ever used an electric sewing machine, some had sewn on treadle machines in their home countries and refugee camps.
As we work with the women each week, we begin to see their unique skills. Several are very precise and sew fine, straight, even seams; one is a stickler for correct thread color and proper technique; another is persevering, always willing to rip out a seam to get it right; one woman loves color; and yet another, who struggles with moderating the sewing machine speed and often seems to be fighting against, instead of working with, the machine, does beautiful hand embroidery. We discovered this skill of hers yesterday, when she brought exquisitely embroidered pillow cases to give as Christmas gifts to Julia and me. Hidden talents are being revealed and skills are blossoming.
There is so much more we hope to see blossoming in the months to come. We look forward to the time when the skill level has grown so much that we have beautiful and useful items to sell. We are excited about the possibilities of the women “earning” their own sewing machines so that they can do their own sewing at home. We are dreaming about ways to help them gain entrepreneurial skills so that they can supplement their families’ incomes in creative ways.
Sometimes, it feels very slow. We don’t know the best way to teach, the best location or time for our class, the best way to organize transportation, the best way to market. But I remember that flowers and fruit don’t spring up overnight! There is digging, planting, watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, and constant nurturing … and then the beauty of flourishing as flowers bloom and fruit appears.
We’ll keep at it and rejoice at each of the little blossomings along the way! It is a privilege and delight to work with these women. So much beauty along the way – hope you’ll come along with us as our “garden” continues to grow.