Saturday, June 29, 2013

20 months later.

I have been here 20 months. Two YEARS in October. It seems like forever, it seems like yesterday. Here is this weeks' update:

Fran came and went and three weeks of my life flew by. I have had numerous encounters I have wanted to share with you and written them down in my head. But they are all gone now and I am not sure where to start.

I could restart by telling a little about how we got to this place, a sewing school. I’ve told it here in pieces. One of many things I have learned here is that creativity is…well, important. It is a powerful way to express emotion, it’s universal, it’s timeless, it’s innate. I am living in a very survival oriented culture. A country that has known slavery and war. Crayons and finger-paints aren’t on their Kindergarten supply lists. Monet and Rembrandt aren’t in glossy books on their coffee tables. There aren’t any coffee tables. And there isn’t any coffee. It’s different. Of course there is beautiful self-expression here all over the place and incredibly artistic ingenuity. But poverty and survival have overtaken. All my students are little creative creations dying to get out.

I have simply seen the sewing school as a place for them to come and create, to make something out of nothing. A place for them to take an everyday item, a capalana. They were wrapped in them the second they were born and carried in one until they could walk. Women wear them every single day. The bundle them in neat donuts and plop them on their heads to carry heavy things. They are one of the most common items that exist. But to take a common item such as this and make something more, something creative, something beautiful, something that can make a profit, is new to them. I wish you could see their faces as they see their little creations take shape. Everything here is the same. There are no fashions or creations or designs that are outside the box. But we are slowly showing them new things and giving them the skills to make them and they are in awe. Maybe I am crazy but I believe that this is helping them in finding out who they are.  I believe that watching them create something that didn’t exist before that is serving to sustain them and empower them and is beautiful and unique and different, is….powerful.

Someone once told me that I would “take dead/abandoned research and bring it to life and it would feed the hungry”. I think this may be a tiny part of it and I honestly had forgotten that until I sat down to write this. My goal is to feed the hungry; body and spirit. I want to bring life to the living dead. I want to see these women and children equipped with what they need inside and out. And somehow sitting at a sewing machine helps to show them, they are powerful, unique, creative, and able.

So, I am doing that. And my weeks have been filled with that. We just launched our online store and officially hired 3 beautiful women and of course, Amilcar. All this is being funded by you. We’ve invested mostly in fabric and one sewing machine. Pastor Lee Smith of The Way Church in Hartwell sent us a fantastic serger and now we are in business! I, of course, am anxious to start making money and at getting back our investment so that we can invest more! I have to go to SA in July to renew my visa and hope to get another machine. (A beautiful lady I met back in November had offered to buy us one, lost my information and just two weeks ago, found me again and gave us the money!) We are still in very beginner stages, with all things and are taking it slow.

Meanwhile, I am doing computer courses in the evening and starting next week, TEN of our boys will start an internship at Kauri (a local restaurant and hotel). I am elated that they have this opportunity but also wondering just what in the world they are going to do that could possibly go wrong or get them fired. I am a proud mom but also worried that I have not prepared them enough, that they are going to skip work, steal the silverware or get caught smoking behind the kitchen.

Those are our big stories over the past few weeks and the reason for my absence. I’m exhausted. I keep thinking that I have never been so tired and that I simply cannot keep functioning at this level of work, and then another week or month goes by and I am still alive and still working and still thinking that I must rest. I get sleep at night it is just the waking hours that are so exhausting. Maybe it is all those years as a state employee that didn’t equip me for this job so full of hard work and long hours, but either way I am so tired. Last time I went to Cape Town, I admitted myself into the little house in Simon’s Town and simply tried to recover. I have until July 24th and then I can do it again. Until then, pray for strength and energy to do each day and for Henrique to show up to work on time and in uniform. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013


 Our Shop is open for business! Click here to enter!

our Children's Line, Table Linens, and Pillow Covers are now on Etsy for sell.

more designs coming soon.
a few of my favorites:

pillow cover with our Ibo Buttons!

i love this jumper. now i just need a little Mozambican to put in it.

cloth napkins are sold mostly in sets of 4 for $19. can do match tablecloths and runners if you'd like. 

great for outdoor pillows.

lumbar pillow

a lot of our fabrics are complementary and you can mix and match.

so far this is only fabric sitting on the bed. not sure what to make.  my source just bought it in Tanzania. i am really loving these bright new colors this season.

table runners in all sizes. 

we take custom orders as well. they will come back on the plane with mom and dad in mid july so place them now. i will post fabric samples here. you can place your orders on the Etsy site where you can "customize" something you like or just email me. 

we are one machine and one teacher (now) and all new students. i still think the quality is great so i won't ask for forgiveness there but we may not be able to do it all or at all or in a timely manner, but we will try. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

sewing by the sea

i am back in computer class. the only time i have to sit down as i watch the boys type and correct them when they only use their index fingers. luis just completed record time, 11 words per minute. dad plans to come and add to our computer classes, a course in video editing! they will LOVE it. 

i cannot believe Fran leaves on monday. we have not stopped! i know i said that already but it's true. i haven't even had time to take my laundry off the line. we are home only to sleep and even then i am sewing in my dreams.

i still don't know what will come of all of this but i can see the vision and it looks incredible. it is all too premature to even begin to plan it all out. but i see this tiny program and Fran's 3 week investment of having HUGE dividends. i am certain we can begin to employ people right away and the training can be ongoing and there is potential to help them buy their own machines and work from home and make a great wage. 

at the moment the plan is to put all our goods on Etsy and i will continue to post previews here. mom is coming at the perfect time as she can also help carry on the classes with me. i am beside myself that my parents are coming and that they can be involved in the work and meet my students. 

we are tired but having fun. i know somewhere on a list of 100 things i want to do, somewhere at the top, is "Learn to Sew". i can check that off now with "Move to Africa", "Help poor people" and "Live by the Sea". 

i admit i have been trudging along a bit with English classes. and i certainly don't want this vision to be my own selfish dream, but i do see how much more i enjoy the interactive creative classroom instead of my boring grammar classes. we have laughed so hard. Fran wiped away tears today when Veronica blew a snot rocket out in the yard immediately after i taught her the English words for "bring the pin cushion". i then told Fran, "should i teach her 'snot rocket'?". i didn't but i wanted to. 

some of these women come from very rough backgrounds and some are living even now in really rough circumstances. just imagine and then know it is worse than that. i love seeing them walk in the gate to our garden and beam. i love seeing them all interact together and laugh and repeat, "bonita" and "lindo" over and over as they watch their creations take shape. for them, capalanas are multifunctional necessities. every woman has 3 on her at any given time. one for carrying things on head. one that wraps around her skinny waist and covers her ankles. one to carry her baby. one to bundle her things. to make them into a boudoir pillow is something they have never seen. Juliana squealed with delight when she sewed her first pinwheel. maybe i am doing it all wrong and making massive cross cultural mistakes as i impose my designs on them. i don't want this to be my dream but theirs. i have been thinking long and hard about dreams anyway. this was all really Amilcar's dream that happened to merge with mine and i don't know if it is a selfish Me dream or a God dream. i am confused. i think about that awful book i had to read in college, Chinawa Achebe's Things Fall Apart. all about missionaries who came and made a huge mess. and of course, the greatest movie of all time, The God's Must Be Crazy. i don't want to be dropping a Coke bottle into their lives. i simply want to show them something outside of their realm, to teach them how to create in a world of survival, to bring them together to empower them, to give them a job, and a skill. and of course, i want to bring beautiful things into your home. African Wax Fabrics are stunning and vibrant and unique and a musthave on your table or sofa or toddler!

we have a full weekend ahead. we hope to get everything posted to the Etsy site by Monday so that means uploading photos and adding wordy descriptions and pricing everything. plus i still want to show my visitor a good time and want her to spend a little time by the sea before she leaves. 

Saturday we are going to Veronica's for lunch. she is making my favorite, Matapa. i have taken her home many times but she always hops off  the scooter before we approach her house. i am looking forward to spending a day with her and her FIVE children and the matapa. 

i won't know what to do with myself after Fran leaves but will have such full days doing all of this solo.

the boys need help and class is almost over. more soon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

fabric finds and a few creations

loving the fabric on the left. it is tanzanian. Serena & Lily made throw pillows out of them and charged $225. 

size 5. more coming!

lumbar pillow and 14x14 throw pillow covers

fun new colors at the potato market fabric store

you can't really tell much about the colors here but they are great. 20x20 throw pillow cover

how adorable are these buttons and this fabric?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

sewing school

Amilcar working on our NEW SERGER!

throw pillow

great napkins to go with this are coming soon!
I am sitting outside in computer class with 7 teenage boys. They make me laugh and I, them. We are laughing at the call to prayer that just went out over the village, even though most of them are muslim. They are learning to type. My star student can type 15 words per minute. They laugh at me typing here so fast. Now they are speaking French and we are laughing at the phrases we know and those we don't. 
We worked HARD today in sewing class. We are actively working and making a great supply of goods to sell. It is all still so young in the process. I had no idea we would have so much of it up and working at this point. I would still ideally like to post it all on and have the girls working here a few days a week and keeping a good supply on etsy and sending our goods back to the States via visitors. I have no clue how it will all work but I see a system where girls can come and work and learn and get paid to do so. 
I have learned from the Mozambicans just to rest and relax and most everything will eventually work out. Today I watched the gardner just sit outside the house waiting on the owner to come out. So I am trying to be more like him and just sit and wait and know that eventually it will all work out according to plan. 
Fran and I are about to go out to eat at 1 of our 3 suitable restaurants. She is a trooper and still hanging in there. I have even heard her use a Portuguese word or two. She is fitting right in here and I am impressed by her resolve. She is an amazing worker, instructor, teacher. I am loving her companionship. 
I am still just shocked that this is all coming together and that it is happening. Our little dream and vision of creating something out of nothing is happening. The girls LOVE seeing the beautiful thing come off the sewing machine. They squeal LINDO or BONITA!! They take such delight in seeing the works of their hands and so do I.

Monday, June 10, 2013

dreams coming true

 I am simply too exhausted to write. My feet hurt. We've not sat down all day. Fran was in her pajamas at 6:30. It has been one week since she arrived and we have not stopped. Except for the Police but that is another story. Just wanted to post pictures and let you see our creations. I am having a blast having a companion here and we are making real progress. I beamed today as Amilcar, my star student and reason for doing this, sat at the sewing machine teaching others. He wants to start designing this week and we are here to help him do it!
We've let each of the students make something to take home and they are all catching on and doing really well. We are now beginning to make items for the online shop and have begun cloth napkins and tablecloths.
Today a loud white Land Rover drove up and my friend from Ibo Island appeared in the gazebo, hand delivering me a bag of stunningly beautiful coconut shell buttons. We've added one to our napkins so you can have some too. We will be adding them to other designs, duvets and pillows. I am dying to make a tunic and a robe.
I am loving all my treasures from home. Thank you so much, Betty and NeeNee and Christine and Carla and Lynne for all the goodies. And Thank You Hartwell Service League for all our sewing supplies. We are so well stocked with what we need thanks to you! Wish you were here to see it all happening. I am beside myself with a well stocked pantry of walnuts and dark chocolate and protein powder. What else could a girl want? Actually today Veronica told me, "Sister Grace, you are fat. You are so very beautiful". So not only do I have a stash of dark chocolate, I live in a country where fat is beautiful.
The students are loving the classes and Amilcar is really growing as a tailor and learning a lot from Fran. "The City Girls" and our Iris Girls are coming too and learning. New students are showing up every day. Typically, the art of sewing here is a man's job. And it is just to mostly repair and make basic clothing. These girls are seeing that sewing can be so much more and that they can create things of beauty.
This was all just a tiny dream as I sat with Amilcar about a year ago and asked him what he wanted to do. When he told me he wanted to be a designer and I knew he often came to school hungry, I wanted to squeal and dance. Finally! A dreamer in the midst of poverty. No longer looking at the reality but dreaming big about lofty things and telling poverty to take a backseat to one of my favorite things ever, Fashion! With your help this is happening.
Many thanks,
cloth napkin sets- coconut shell buttons

my friend Teo works with a man on Ibo Island who made these for us. he hand delivered them this morning!

my student Amilcar who told me he wants to be a designer. he's hand sewing a handbag.

my cleaning lady Veronica and one of our newest students. i've dubbed her a "city girl". they are making a beach wrap from a pattern fran brought and a capalana she brought from home.

our cloth napkins and tablecloths!