When was the last time you met a young girl who was interested in learning to sew or in learning a craft of any sort?
While living in Ghana a few years back, E. Aminata Brown, founder of BaBa Blankets™ met scores of young girls on the streets of Accra who shared the common experience of fleeing their rural villages to become load-carriers or “kaya yo” in the big city markets. When Aminata asked the girls she met if given one wish what would that be, their answer was the same: learn how to sew. Why sewing? Because sewing allowed them to create and express themselves, yes. But also sewing provided them with a skill that would allow them to make a living for themselves and their families.
In many parts of the world women (and men) sew the clothes they and their families wear. They also manage to make a decent living for themselves as seamstresses who sew for others. Our fast-paced Western society with its high technology is leaving behind some skills now referred to as lost arts. One such lost art is making/sewing your own clothes. As a child of the era when girls took high school home economics classes, I learned sewing in school and from my stepmother and great aunt. I was well into my 20s when I stopped sewing my own clothes. What made me stop? Lack of time. The convenience of buying off the rack. Pressure from friends to put away my Butterick and Simplicity patterns and wear outfits befitting my Ivy League station . It wasn’t until I started quilting this past February that I remembered that I used to sew. That I once stayed up all night sewing something to wear to church or to work the next day. I’d completely l suppressed the memory of those days.
E. Aminata Brown founded in 2006 BaBa Blankets™, a social enterprise that supports African women’s cooperatives through grassroots development efforts and artistic craft sale, in an effort to empower economically disadvantaged women in Ghana. Since its founding the social enterprise group has provided technical and artistic training as well as sustainable income to the women involved. A former English Literature & African-American Studies major at Brown University, Aminata has devoted her life work to empowering disadvantaged African women.
Go ahead and admit it Renita. One of the other reasons I stopped sewing when I was in my 20s is because sewing didn’t fit it with what I imagined a revolutionary should be doing. I was an intellectual and wanted nothing to do with the woman of Proverbs 31:
She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Twenty five years later, quilting has me thinking again about making a few of my outfits. I love Eileen Fisher designs. Her simple lines and her elegant textiles are popular among women my age and those who prefer a simple, elegant, timeless style. But for as expensive as Eileen Fisher’s clothes are, I could buy the fabric and make a few of the outfits myself. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m thinking about it. After all, a revolution isn’t a revolution until the people acquire the skills they need to be self-sustaining and not completely at the mercy of of the dominant economy. It’s a lesson worth passing down to our daughters. Learn how to make something, do something, create something, fix something for yourself so you can survive in the days of scarcity. Learn to do something in this information driven economy that lets you use your hands and make a living from doing it, if it comes to that.
I wonder how many of you sew or once sewed. How many of you grew up sewing or grew up around mothers, grandmothers, or aunts who were seamstresses?