Carla’s Trip Journal – Installment 6

First, my profound apologies for allowing so much time to pass between Installments 5 and 6. I just got back from MQS in Overland Park, and I finally gave in to the cold and cough that have been hanging on and getting worse for the last couple of weeks. I’ve spent the last 3 days in bed, and I have a doctors appointment in the morning, so I think I’m on the road to recovery. Therefore — on with Installment 6!

Addis Ladies Sewing Circle

When we made our arrangements to stay at Cherokee House in Ethiopia we asked Caroline and Kim at Cherokee Gives Back if there was anything we could do to help out — perhaps teach sewing classes to a group of orphans or something like that? They replied that they’d like us to teach a group of 5 ladies with some English and some sewing skills to sew something that they could, in turn, teach a group of 25 young HIV positive single mothers. These single mothers had been evicted from their homes, had no skills, and were not always well enough to do manual labor, so Cherokee and the ladies we would be teaching wanted to teach them something so they could build skills to generate some income to be able to afford housing and keep their children with them.

We agreed on a project that would allow them to make something they could sell immediately to tourists and others — tote bags. After all, doesn’t every tourist need a big tote bag for all the swag and maybe some small ones for gift bags?

Before leaving for Ethiopia I made up a couple of prototypes of tote bags with blocks for outside pockets:
1. a small one with a pinwheel block pocket, using a technique for a pinwheel block that I learned from the Missouri Quilt Company’s Youtube tutorial:

2. a larger one that had a hidden wells block pocket. For this one I used the Three Dudes technique, which you can see on this Youtube tutorial:

Here’s how the prototypes looked:

Both bags are lined, and the large one also has a pocket inside for cell phone, notepad, keys or whatever. These were made out of cotton so they’d be easy to fold and transport to be used for shopping bags, but they could be made of canvas for heavier toting.

Prior to leaving for Addis I went shopping to equip basic sewing kits with scissors, thread, pins, ruler, tape measure, and seam ripper, and I put together some fabric kits that would allow each of the 5 women to make both tote bags and have fabric left over for a couple more. I chose fat quarters of animal prints (no tigers! They don’t exist in Africa!), the colors of the Ethiopian flag (green, yellow and red), basic black and muslin.

I had big plans for properly documenting the patterns using PowerPoint, but ran out of time before I had to get on the plane, so I brought my notes with Plan B to finish the patterns during my very long layover in Frankfurt. I think the fates were aligned against me, as I was using an app that didn’t really have the function of PowerPoint I needed (you know, graphics? Oh — and SAVING???) so Plan B didn’t work out too well. Plan C was to keep my notebook with my scribbled notes with me and play it by ear. It’s not like I never had to tap dance before!

For the first day of class we met the ladies at a “feeding center” run by a All for Christ, in an area on the outskirts of Addis not far from the Good Shepherd School I had attended. (The school is a military base now, so a visit wasn’t in the cards.) A feeding center is a place where children (often orphans living with extended family or children from very needy families) will come for meals. There are many needy families in this area, so the compound was very lively and busy.

We were brought into a room where we met our 5 students and Senait, an attorney who worked with “All for Christ” and who would be our translator. We had two machines to share among the five, and we started with the small bag. Two of the ladies, Enanu and Bezuwerk had considerable sewing experience. Enanu made children’s clothing, and Bezuwerk showed us a lovely handbag that she had made. Okay, let’s be honest, either of these two could have easily taught this class!

On day one we mad great progress on the first bag, and agreed to meet at Cherokee House the following two afternoons, where we would also have an additional sewing machine. Day two, we finished the little bag and got a start on the big bag. Here’s a shot of the ladies showing the first bag:

From left to right, the ladies are: Almaz, Aberash, Senait (with the prototype), Enanu, Beletu (seated) and Bezuwerk. Note how pretty and different all the bags turned out to be!

We all had a great time during our three sewing sessions.  Given that our translator, Senait, didn’t have sewing experience, I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be difficult to get my (undocumented!) instructions across, but she did a fabulous job of translating, and everyone caught on really well.  It was also wonderful to have both Brenda and Linda to help, since the ladies had to trade off on the machines, so we could work on different aspects at different times without too much disruption.

As you can see, we had fun, and got things done!

I was really impressed with the way the ladies who finished first helped the others, and how they explained things to each other.  I think this group will do very well teaching the 25 young mothers that they will be teaching.

Bezuwerk finished the first large bag — isn’t it pretty? 

As all the ladies finished, we had them pose with their pictures.  Don’t the bags look great, and don’t the ladies look proud of their accomplishments?

Finally a picture of what we’ve dubbed the Addis Ladies’ Sewing Circle:

One of the best things is to share skills with others who will share skills with others!  I wish all these ladies great success in their sewing classes.  And the next time any of us is in Ethiopia, if you’re approached by someone who wants to sell you one of these very distinctive, functional, and pretty tote bags, please buy one — or more!!  It’s for a very good cause!




2 Responses to “Carla’s Trip Journal – Installment 6”

  1. Janet Says:

    Thank you for sharing the story! It is every bit as positive as the giving of the quilts to the orphans. I hope there are enough sewing machines, fabric and thread so that everyone who learns can sew to their hearts content.

    Also thank you for including the video’s for us to see and use ourselves!

    The pinwheel is one of my least favorite blocks (with the rose bud being the other) but the techinque makes HSTs and those can be used in a zillion ways!

    I’m thinking that if I made four identical block sets of the other trick, I could produce something a lot like Hidden Well’s, but so much faster and easier!

    Just think how fast more quilts for orphans can go together with these tricks!

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