Archive for the ‘arts and crafts’ Category

Oh Sew Revolutionary

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

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?

In The Beginning, God (She) Created

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I am convinced that in a previous life I was an African market woman who specialized in making and selling dazzling cloths. “Madam, Madam, over here. Come and see.”

African Milliner

I LOVE beautiful fabric. Reams. Bolts. Yards. Pieces of fabric I fell in love with for the sheer beauty of the texture, color, or design can be found draped over a chair or table in nearly every room of my house. Some pieces are mounted on my walls for the sheer pleasure I gain when I see them when I enter a room. I should have been a milliner. cloth

Silk. Satin. Linen. Brocade. Organdy. Damask. Raffia. Batik. Kente.  Mudcloth.

Special shout out to fellow fabric addict Rev. Renee Keels and the “Sisters in Stitches Joined by Cloth” for the fabulous quilts they make and those they donate to worthy causes.  Based in Boston, “Sisters in Stiches Joined by Cloth” is the only African-American quilting guild in New England. The African inspired quilt below was done by Renee’s Quilted Creation and donated to My Sister’s Keeper an organization created to reach out to the women of Darfur and to provide assistance.

sister stitchers

Finally, I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve taken up a new hobby. Quilting.Last night was the third class there in the church’s basement. Whenever I pull out my fabric pieces for my quilt I feel like Lydia an enterprising sister in Acts 16: 9-15 who figured out how to whip up dazzling purple dyed fabrics to sell to the wealthy patrons of her day. For now I’m just enjoying spending late Thursday evenings with other women there in the basement of our church cutting, sewing, and laughing across the room at each other. Given the state our economy these days, revisiting some old high school home economic lessons and refamiliarizing yourself with your grandmother and great-grandmother’s art of recyling scraps of fabric and making a family quilt makes a lot of sense.

Here’s a sneak peak at the quilt I’m working on. Special thanks to my teacher Judi Worthan Sauls. Last night’s class focused on how to mount the quilt pieces onto felt cloth so we can get an idea of the lay out of the pattern before beginning to stitch.

Renita's Quilt

I think I’ll spend the weekend doing a little quilting and stitching. Making use of the other side of this old brain lodged here underneath all this silver grey hair. The creative side. The side that keeps me closest to God.

“In the beginning God created…”


The photos above of the woman balancing a sewing machine on her head and the one balancing a stack of fabric on her head are taken from a book  which would make a wonderful gift to give anyone you know who loves fabric and quilting, especially African inspired quilts: Quilt Inspirations from Africa: A Caravan of Ideas, Patters, Motifs, and Techniques by Kaye England and Mary Elizabeth Johnson.

Time to Pull Out the Quilts

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

After spending all day Thursday on “live chat”with the technical engineers at Earthlink trying to get the blog back up, I’m too tired to think a thought all the way through. Today is Lurker Friday.

Surrendering to something beautiful has a way of lifting my soul.

Take one of the magnificent quilts created by my friend Judi Worthan-Sauls. A sister from my church introduced Judi and her finely crafted Afrocentric quilts a few weeks ago to our women’s ministry group at church , and I was hooked.  My mouth dropped at the sight of Judi’s eye-catching use of color and different textures to give her quilts drama and life. As a treat to our group Judi volunteered to teach a beginner’s quilting class at my church this coming February. And guess who signed up to learn quilting?  That’s right. Yours truly. I decided to fetch my old featherweight Singer sewing machine from my college days out of the garage and haul it off to the repair shop for a tune-up and repair.  I need to take up a real hobby for myself. Something to do with my hands that engages another part of my brain from the one that calls for all the writing and reading I do.

Judi’s quilts are not your grandmother’s quilts. Don’t get me wrong. I’d kill to get my hands on one of the many quilts my grandmother, I’m told, whipped up from old fabrics regularly for her family of ten. Judi’s Quilts are works of art. But you have only to see one of Judi’s quilts up close and listen to her talk about feeling herself  surrounded by a cloud of ancestral quilters looking down from above to know that there must be something really spiritual about quilting.

African American quilting is almost as old as the history of America. Black slave women were needed for spinning, weaving, sewing and quilting on plantations and in other wealthy households. But long before the advent of slavery on this continent, prominent civilizations of Africa were weaving the backdrop for African-American quilting and textiles.

Every woman ought to own at least one nice quilt.

Judi calls the quilt pattern below “Wheels of Whimsy.” It reminds her of Lifesaver candies. Don’t you just love the colors?! Looks like something God would create.

Judi's Quilts

Drop by Judi’s new blog “Judi’s Quilts” where she plans to write about her quilts and talk about her journey as an artist. Also check out “The Cyber-Quilting Experiment” a website for young activists who draw from the metaphor of the quilt to call attention to their effort to use cyberspace to stitch together a movement of women’s activism from the tapestry of all that impacts our lives as women.

Albert Camus was correct:

Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions.
But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty.