This Scarf and These Women

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I made this scarf yesterday. This is quite possibly the ugliest scarf that has ever been stitched anywhere, anytime, any place. Yes, the material is nice – you can’t go wrong with yellow and flowers – however, if you held it in your hands and looked at it closely, you would be very sad for me. It’s my first sewing project, and I think it’s clear that a seamstress I am not.

But these two ladies are on their way to becoming professional seamstresses and yesterday was their first day of apprenticeship at their sewing shop/school in Ankaase, Ghana. And so I stitched that messy scarf in honor of them.

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I decided that if Afia and Doris were going to learn to sew using hand-crank Butterfly sewing machines and sweating their way through days in this un-airconditioned seamstress shop, then I could learn something about sewing as well. I want to be able to have a conversation with them about sewing when I visit Ghana in May, and until about three weeks ago I knew almost nothing about it. My mother tried, bless her. But as young girl, I was more interested in writing and reading and daydreaming than learning a skill that seemed so far beyond my natural abilities. Yesterday I had to fight  the urge to run out of my newly designated sewing room and throw myself back in front of the computer. But instead, I finished that devilish scarf and conquered the evil Singer ZigZag machine, circa 1970.

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Actually, the machine was free and it’s a cabinet model, which means it came with a desk that it folds into when not in use (which might be most of the time – just kidding). I am grateful for my machine because I absolutely love free stuff. I spent the first day with it learning how to thread it, which is no easy task. I’ve also learned how to wind the bobbin, replace the bobbin, and turn the hand wheel toward me ever so slowly to pull up the bobbin thread from under the throat plate below. If all of this means nothing to you, then I’m sorry. I’m just showing off. The truth is, I’ve spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting and pouring over this riveting piece of work:

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I somehow feel at one with the girls in the photo as I read all about flexi-stitch discs. Switch my stitch design with the touch of a button? No ma’am. That’s for the divas with the fancy-schmansy machines purchased within the past two decades. The gals from 1970 and I have discs that must be changed in and out of the machine in four easy steps. The discs are stored in the drawer of my sewing cabinet. I have yet to touch them because after reading that four-step process, I decided to stick with the straight-stitch. For now.

And just to keep things extra nostalgic, I’m using my mother’s sewing basket.

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Here’s a good story: My parents were married in 1955 and for their first Christmas as a married couple, Dad gave Mom this sewing basket. She cried. He thought that he had scored big, but unfortunately she was crying because receiving a sewing basket in 1955 as a gift from your husband was sort of like receiving an iron skillet. It was a necessity and did not send a message of romantic love, but rather a reminder that tomorrow you would be getting busy with the chores. Dad was a good man, and he learned his lesson well. I think he gave her perfume every Christmas from that point forward. But she never upgraded the sewing basket. When I opened it a few weeks ago, it still had all her sewing items in it – scissors, buttons, measuring tape, zippers, fabric scraps, etc. And I smelled the faint scent of my mother’s perfume – the kind Dad gave her every Christmas. I cried a little and left it alone, deciding that there will be a better day go through the basket. I don’t need most of that stuff yet anyway just to make ugly scarves from clearance fabric.

I’m not sure at this point if I’m more excited about the sewing or more charged up to win my victory over the machine. Either way, I’m not giving up. And I’m praying for our seamstress apprentices. For me, sewing is just a whim. I’ll make some scarves, maybe convert some t-shirts into shopping bags (found that easy-to-do project from Martha Stewart, go figure). But for our seamstress apprentices, this is an opportunity for a changed life. They’re stepping into a career, which for a woman in Ghana is like climbing a steep mountain. Fortunately, our apprentices have lots of climbing support from some other seamstresses who live here in the U.S. Thank you Diana and Janet for sponsoring them! I know that by next week, our apprentices will have far surpassed my skill level – in fact, that may have actually happened today. I’m so happy for them and excited for what the future holds.

And in May, I think I’ll take my sorry little scarf to Ghana so the three of us can have a good laugh.

4 thoughts on “This Scarf and These Women

  1. YAY LISA! This makes me so happy! I can assure you that if you have taken the time to read the manual, then you are light years ahead of most people who start sewing. I have a saying that people are allergic to manuals. The fact that you learned how to thread it and that you should turn the handwheel toward you will alleviate lots of hair pulling and screaming. Praying for these seamstresses as well! What a beautiful thing you are doing.

    1. Steffani – can’t tell you how many times I wanted to call you. Especially when I was trying to figure out how to do a slip stitch! Still don’t get it. And the manual couldn’t help me on that one. Thank you for the huge part you are playing in the Women’s Sustainability program. Our apprentices will be stitching Ankaase Bags someday!

  2. Proud of you, Lisa. You faced your fears and conquered threading the machine, which may be one of the trickiest I’ve seen! Can’t wait to see what else you will have created by the time I’m back in the neighborhood! Congratulations!!!

    1. Only you can understand the victorious feeling of threading that machine. Golly gee – who came up with THAT engineering design? Miss you!

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