You might think that the last thing that a liturgical textile artist would do for fun is more sewing, but that is exactly what this needle and threader does. God has called me to volunteer with a group of Latina women at Simpson United Methodist Church in South Minneapolis.
At the beginning of this past summer, I could not speak a lick of Spanish, but the seamstresses are teaching me. We started out posting on big paper the English and Spanish for many common sewing terms. Fortunately, all the major pattern companies use both languages on the back of their pattern envelopes! We are now branching out into simple sentences. God has always called me to work with those who don’t have it easy in life, and in these days and times, I feel that learning Spanish is important for that work even if I am 56 years old. Also, it helps the women with their English. Most of them do not work outside the home and so do not get many chances to practice. My dream is that I can help some of the mujeres learn enough English to help them advocate for their children in school.
I started this venture figuring that sewing could be taught and learned visually without a lot of language, which has turned out to be mostly true. I either teach the women skills one-on-one, or they gather around me at the workstation. I model the activity, they try it, I show them what I forgot to demonstrate the first time, and so we continue. One of our most perplexing lessons has been on measurements. Many Americans don’t function all that well with a yard stick and people from Latin America have the added challenge of growing up under the metric system. The women benefit, however, from a community style of learning where one teaches another which is foreign to we individualistic Americans.
We began our first session this summer with everyone making a bolsa, a small cotton shopping bag. That way, even if the learner professed previous sewing knowledge, I could assess their level of expertise with that initial project. From there, the women have chosen their own projects – one working on a dress for herself, another starting a child’s blouse, and a third cutting out a new Aztec dance costume for her daughter. When I come to a teaching point on a pattern, I call everyone over for a mini-lesson on notches, for example.
Starting this fall, I plan to do an actual demonstration of a skill at the beginning of every class. This could be installing a zipper or making a machine button hole. When I have taught sewing previously, I have had a list of competencies for the learner to master in order to earn a certificate “Level One Machine Sewing”, “Level Two Serging”, etc., and I may institute that system this fall.
Another important aspect of our weekly time is that the women intentionally share information regarding local events and family resources. This serves to break isolation and increase the social and financial capital of each family. A number of the students seem to be gaining self-esteem and indeed, we have begun to call the class Power Sewing or Coser con Poder!
If you would like to be involved in the fun, there are several ways to participate. Join us, if you live near. We meet on Tuesday mornings from 10 a.m. until noon. We could certainly use more one-on-one sewing coaches and childcare helpers. Donations of fabric, notions, scissors, etc. are always welcome so that we do not have to spend scarce resources on buying them. Cub Foods cards are always a great way to help. It is possible that food insecurity could be a problem at home and we might not be aware so we like to offer our families a snack. We invite you into our happy little group.
Peace & Hope!
For more information:
Rev. Paula Sanders