I was recently asked to write a short bio about me and Bobbins and Buttons. I know by now I should have an elevator pitch at the ready that can easily be expanded for a short bio. However I found it quite difficult to convey what I wanted to say. I wanted to express not only what a wonderful versatile skill sewing is but also the non-tangible side of learning to sew, the promotion of well being and therapeutic side of learning to sew or making something.
This is what made me fall in love with teaching and teaching is at the heart of my business. I love watching the moment of realisation that a process suddenly makes sense or when two seams turn through and become an item. I love witnessing the joy of a first completed garment or cushion cover or watching the experience of escapism from a stressful career or an unhappy place. For some people that first stitch is a start of a whole new story in their lives.
I feel very lucky to have witnessed and been part of some amazing sewing experiences, demonstrating how this perhaps seemingly humble skill can have a huge impact on someone’s life. My first experience teaching was as a volunteer textile teacher for an art school set up to support the local disadvantaged community in a small village called Nieu Bethesda, South Africa in 2004. There was one story that was particularly special.
The community lived in extreme poverty there was no education for children unless they could pay a £20 a year fee. There was huge problems with alcoholism, violence, HIV and all the issues that resulted because of these problems. I spent most of a year teaching the women of the community which was the first time they had been taught. I use the term ‘women’ loosely because these women ranged in age from 11 years and upwards.
I wasn’t aware of the particular circumstances of each person in my classes but one girl Amanda aged 13 was very timid and unsure for several weeks. However she came to class everyday, little by little I watched her confidence grow and grow.
At Christmas time the whole school came together to make lanterns for a parade that took place through the township on New year’s eve. The year I was there the theme for the lantern parade was ‘make a wish’. Everyone was invited to make a lantern in the shape of their wish. Amanda wished to go to school.
When the founders of the art school learned of her wish they decided to help her by channeling any sales of her sewing work into a fund for her schooling.
Most of the work the ladies did was depicting their drawings of their life and local landscape into applique which they then made into one of several bag shapes I had designed for them. These were sold in a shop that attracted tourists and adjoined the school.
Within a few months Amanda had sold two bags giving her enough money for a year at school. I will always remember seeing her in her school uniform in the local town where she now went to school ..looking every bit the confident and very happy school girl.
More recently and for at least two years I have run a local sewing community project. I know that many of the participants who come regularly suffer with mental health issues. Since the project has lost funding these people have opened up to me about how learning to sew and making things as well as being part of a group has helped them with their health and well being. Even with scraps and donated pieces of fabric there has been some wonderful creativity within the group.
On the other hand I have taught many medical professionals who work long hours and have stressful jobs. I remember a lovely email I received from a customer who worked as a psychologist in high security prisons. The email was entitled “sewing for the soul”, which I thought was lovely and summed up well what she wrote as a thank you note.
As for sewing being the start of a journey I am currently teaching a teenage girl who chose to study sewing as her Duke of Edinburgh skill, she has carried on and is now making her own prom dress. It’s wonderful to watch her discovery of this new skill unfold.
Another story that started with sewing was Chris and his love for cosplay. This may have started with a desire to make a Kylo Ren costume when the Star Wars movie came out but since he arrived at my class with a bunch of questions and not much sewing experience a few months ago he has gone on to make several more true to screen detailed cosplay costumes. Most of which he has self drafted patterns for. He has been accepted to troop in character for charities which is now very much a part of his life, always with self made costumes.
Do you have a sewing story? Is sewing just a skill?