My baby birds are taking flight with their first project! Now that all ten women are seam-fluent and comfortable with the machines, we are taking a couple of days to have a simple totebag workshop. The women are using the skills they have learned so far: sewing seams, hemming, measuring, cutting, backstitching and staystitching on a project that is easy and manageable. They're also getting used to making and sewing handles and pockets.
Mechi, Natali and Marilin cutting fabric for their first project
These women are already showing creativity and ingenuity. Ramona's bag, pictured above, was made from a single strip of cloth, which she felt was easier to sew than the two separate panels I had had them cut in preparation for the project (she was right.)
The women are having a blast with their first projects, and it's clear that the more they acomplish in the workshop, the stronger they feel about ensuring that their project and their business is successful. The intense excitement around here is mounting by the day, if not by the minute!
Yesel making jokes and teasing Jose during the workshop. :)
Mechi's tote, the first one finished today. She gave it to Morgan as a gift.
La Pastora, one of Nest's facilitators, stopped by to check on the project just as Ramona was finishing up her tiny bag.
Yesterday we had the chance to sit down with Ramona Jimenez, one of our clients. Ramona has always felt very comfortable with us, and we consider her a close friend. During our conversation yesterday, she explained in great detail one of the most difficult moments of her life.
Before 1998, she lived a very comfortable life; her husband had a steady job and they had managed to acrrue some savings during the years. In 1998 they decided to start a business in Batey Aleman. The business that they built was the biggest Colmado (corner store) in the community. It was two stories tall and provided all the goods the community needed. They had been able to purchase half of the store's inventory with their savings, and the other half they borrowed on credit from a department store in San Pedro de Macoris, the local town. Everything was going well, they couldn't believe they had accomplished one of their dreams: to start their own business.
Their lives changed just one week after opening the business. In September of 1998, Hurricane George struck the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean Countries. Batey Aleman was hit particularly hard. Their newly-opened store, as well as her house and most of the community, was completely devastated by the force of the storm. Ramona's family lost everything, from their beds to the goods in the Colmado. They were completely devastated emotionally, psycologically and economically. Their dream had fallen apart. They had to send their kids to sleep at the Pastora's (Local Pastor) house, since they didn't have a place for them to sleep, while Ramona and her husband slept on the floor in the only standing room in the house. They used garbage bags for bedding, so that they wouldn't have to sleep on the wet floor.
Ramona and her husband had borrowed half of the store's stock on credit, and with all of the goods destroyed, they had no way to repay what they had borrowed. The store confiscated the family's car, the only source of lump sum capital they had left.
Ramona finished her story with this statement:
"Faith, hope and life is all I need to move forward. Money is the least important thing. Thank God we are alive and that all my family members are healthy. Life is the most important thing in the world."
Ramona has been chosen the leader of the cooperative becaue of her good nature and sense of responsibility. She asked us if, as leader of the cooperative, she would be responsible for repaying the loan in the event that the other women defaulted. We were so thrilled to be able to explain to her that Nest is not like the department store that took the only thing they had left as repayment for a loan. We assured her that Nest is only here to help her reach her goal, and that in the event that something goes awry with the repayment plan, Nest will immediately open discussion with her and the rest of the women to find out what the problem is, and then rework the plan to fit their needs. Nest's program is aimed at teaching the women how to efficiently handle money and manage a business, and we explained to Ramona that she should never worry about losing any personal capital or possessions while working within a Nest program.
Listening to her talk about such a catastrophe and struggle moved us beyond words. She is an example of perseverence, hope and faith, and is one of the strongest woman we have ever met. She is so happy and thankful that Nest is giving her a second opportunity to accomplish her goal of launching her own business.
During Thursday's business session on professionalism, the women put their brains together to name the cooperative they have formed together. Individually, each woman created a name that she proposed to the group, and then the women voted on a favorite.
La Associacion de Mujeres de Costura de Villa Aleman (AMCVA)
The Women's Sewing Association of Villa Aleman
Quite the professional title, if you ask us. We're so proud of these women!
After recovering from a bout with the traveler’s stomach flu that kept Morgan out of the community on Monday and Tuesday, we were finally about to recommence the sewing workshop yesterday.
Last week, our first workshop focused on cultivating inspiration. All of Nest’s loan recipients are talented artists and artisans, who not only have developed their manual skills in craft, but who have also trained their eyes and their minds to recognize beauty all around them and translate those images into exquisite goods. The first sewing session in the Batey sought to encourage our women to begin opening their eyes and recognizing how “ordinary” beauty in one’s environment can be the source of brilliant ideas for new products. I brought in a dark green leaf with bright magenta veins that I had picked from a tree nearby, and explained that its coloring or shape could be the inspiration for a project. They were encouraged to begin keeping a sketchbook, where they can paste images from magazines, swatches of beautiful fabric, pressed flowers from their garden, and keep notes about what they see around them that elicits joy and motivation.
In the second workshop of last week, we covered all the items in their sewing toolkits and in the accessory boxes that came with their machines. We explained the difference between dressmaker’s shears and regular scissors, how a seam gauge helps you measure your hems and align seams, how to use a disappearing-ink marker, and introduced the women to the fun of ripping out stitches that go awry with the weapon-like seam ripper, also known as therapy for frustrated seamstresses.
Wednesday was our first workshop in the new studio, which is newly equipped with seven treadle machines, an iron and ironing board, and complete sewing toolkits that include scissors, needles, pins and pincushions, seam rippers, seam gauges, sewing rulers, tailor’s chalk, fabric markers, and spools of thread in every color of the rainbow. Over the weekend, we hired a carpenter from the community to build a cutting table in the back part of the studio and shelves to store extra buttons, bobbins, thread and fabric.
The session began with a brief discussion on the anatomy and mechanics of the machine. The more we know about how it works, the easier it is to solve a problem when something goes wrong. The women studied their manuals and memorized all the machine parts and their functions.
Yesterday’s workshop concluded with a little no-thread sewing. In order to get the women comfortable with their treadle machines, which are a bit more difficult to operate than electric machines, I had them sew on paper without threading the needle. This allowed them to concentrate on learning to pump the pedal and turn the hand wheel just right, without having to worry about thread tangles and tension. Treadle sewing isn’t easy in the beginning. It takes a lot of practice to get the right rhythm and timing, but by the end of the session, all ten women were running their machines like a dream. A few were even sewing circles on their paper and making designs with the needle’s puncture marks. Ten seamstresses are born!
While preparing for Monday's sewing workshop with the women, I came across the history of the sewing machine. I was surprised to discover that the treadle model the women are using has changed very little, if at all, from the first Singer two-thread sewing machine.
From my sewing guide, (Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp):
For centuries, people tried to figure out how to sew automatically or mechanically. Can you blame them when sewing a shirt by hand took about fourteen hours?
The first man to patent the type of sewing machine we use today was Elias Howe. Some historians argue that Howe's wife, Elizabeth Ames Howe, invented the machine and put the patent in his name. She would have had the motivation, since she was a seamstress and would have welcomed greater speed for greater profit. The Howe machine had top and bottom threads that linked together to form stitches. A breakthrough! To showcase this miracle, Howe set up a John Henry-type contest between his machine and five ladies sewing by hand in a Massachusetts public hall in 1845. The machine trounced the seamstresses, sewing five seams before they could sew one.
It was German mechanic and cabinetmaker Isaac Singer who made the two-thread sewing machine a hit. Sure, he violated Howe's patent (and later paid up), but he added the foot pedal and about twenty other improvements. In the 1860s Singer took his machines on the road and demonstrated them to groups of ladies (many of whom he seduced after the show).
Interestingly (for Nest), Singer let the housewives take a machine home and pay over time, making him a pioneer of the credit plan as well. Even though today's state of the art Singers, Kenmores, Janomes, and Husqvarna-Vikings have computer chips and forty-seven stitch options, the basic, manual pedal machine is still manufactured and has remained the same for the last 150 years.
Nest Fellows teaching the Module One (Finance) to Nest clients. Jose is teaching the business curriculum, while Morgan anxiously awaits to teach the students the first steps in their sewing career. It was an intense day full of questions from the Nest fellows and students. A very productive day.
Jose assisting Nest students with their excercises.
Morgan teaching Marilin how to insert a bobbin in the treadle machine.
After a long day of teaching we decided to relax by taking a walk with Luis Daniel through the village.
Nest's newest loan program has officially begun! Nest Fellows had their first meeting with our newest ten clients this morning in their community, Batey Aleman. Today our goal was to get to know each other, to talk about our expectations for the project, and to open the floor for questions and concerns.
The room was buzzing with excitement as the women shared with us their hopes of becoming successful business owners. The room erupted with applause when Jose mentioned that our project is Nest's first in the Dominican Republic, and the women were pleased to learn that their courses in business and sewing will begin tomorrow.
Nest's newest clients.
Nest Fellows Jose and Morgan with the pastor of the Batey church.