quilters without borders

It’s quite a bit of fun when you can call your hobby “work” – at least for a little while.  And all the more wonderful when it might just be for a good cause!  I got that chance because IDF’s coordinator, Oussematou, found out (thanks to Catherine!) that I am an avid quilter and could be easily whisked away to Bamenda to give a workshop on it.  As the old VSO slogan used to say:  sharing skills, changing lives.

Not so sure we intended to change lives, but hey if you can pardon my lame commentary… if life is giving you scraps…  make a quilt!

Oh, enough with the silliness…  Here is what the original plan was:  do a two-day hand quilting training with women infected/affected by HIV so that they can quilt as a support group and then perhaps, with experience, turn it into an income generating activity.

But we didn’t manage to get funding to make it really formal so…

Instead, this is what took place: Oussematou gathered two gentlemen around her (another woman – a seamstress no less – was also supposed to come but cancelled due to a death in the family) and we did a quick one-day quilting lesson!  The idea was that these three apprenticeswould then start to train others when they feel more confident with the needle.

shhh... the quilters are concentrating

Right, well… maybe not doing the whole changing lives thing, but at least there’s a chance for this bit of skill to carry forward.

I picked a relatively simple pattern – friendship star – and put together a bunch of handouts, including visual instructions and other sample templates.  Then I grabbed my sewing kit, invited fellow quitling volunteer (Cornelia) to join in and turned IDF’s conference room into a quilter’s retreat!

the sample inspiration piece - a frienship star

It was an absolute blast AND a learning lesson for me about teaching hand quilting.

Besides Oussematou who had learned to quilt some years ago, the other two gentlemen had quite different skills.  One is self-employed doing traditional North West Cameroonian embroidery. The other, I suspect, had never before stitched even a button onto a shirt.  So now I totally understand the amount of patience and creativity necessary to teach in general, but also to teach people of different skill levels. It’s very interesting teaching to someone who has allergic reactions to following instructions!

Yes, I know, you can’t teach perfectionism or at least you probably shouldn’t try.  I thought it best to let them make some mistakes along the way so as not to break their spirit and try their patience (as they were trying mine!):

“Sure you can use black thread to sew yellow blocks on your practice piece!”

“No, no, it’s no problem if you have the sewing lines on the outside, it’s just for practice!”

“It’s no matter if you turn the pieces around so it’s not a star anymore, we’re just practicing!”

“Right, so now that the two pieces are pinned together you can sew along the sewing line you drew – except you didn’t draw the lines as instructed. Oh well, then I guess you can just eyeball it.  We’re just practicing.” 

But, on the inside of course, my little voice was screaming and my quilting genes were crying just a little!!! I kept telling myself that when they see it all come together and they see their own mistakes, they will start to appreciate the teachings and the need for greater precision.  In quilting, a few millimeters do make a difference, but I guess that’s hard to believe until you see the results yourself.

All in all, it was a really fun day.  We littered the floor with bits of fabric. We lost out templates beneath a pile of remnants (thanks Cornelia!), and, for all my nervousness, we did not lose my grandma’s sewing scissors!  More silent curses were uttered in threading the needles rather than in doing the stitching – so I know things were going pretty well.

Best of all, everyone completed one block and attached the backing to it.  Everyone started doing some “stitch in the ditch” work around their star, and I showed them how to complete the binding so they could properly finish another day.  So, yeah, quite literally… quilts without borders!

Everyone left with a smile on his or her face (including me! – well OK maybe mostly me!)… and a few more scraps have now become stars!!!  Friendships one at that!


~ by Caroline Spira on September 25, 2011.

3 Responses to “quilters without borders”

  1. The results of your quilting lesson are very impressive. My were you brave teaching men how to quilt! Goes to show everyone, quilting is not limited to one gender. At first, when I read ” Quilts With No Borders ” I thought the ‘no border’ part meant no borders were quilted on the finished product. Now I see !

  2. I LOVE IT! Now that the cold is coming and the nights are darker here in Ottawa I think I should take a page from your book and pull out the needles. Great work, thanks for the pictures too. Quilts make such great metaphors. Sending best to you and Greg. Tara

  3. I loved this blog so much I shared it with my quilting group. Many have tried teaching and found that patients is the most important skill. I read all your blogs and greatly admire the two of you. I will share the words of Maya Angelou with you as they inspire me, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
    May you both continue to inspire in your path through life.

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