In March of this year, we unexpectedly received an email with the subject line, “Asante Sana (Thank You) from Kenya!” It was sent by a woman named Nirvana, who is part of a team working to empower rural Kenyans with life and entrepreneurial skills. It seems that their goal is to inspire people to challenge the current social and cultural systems that tend to keep rural Kenyans impoverished. Read part of Nirvana’s first email to us:
Dear Alabama Chanin,
You inspired 39 rural Kenyan women and men to start a tailoring class to learn hand sewing! They thought they had to have a sewing machine to learn tailoring. They also thought only poor people sewed by hand!
My American team and I are living in rural Kenya to teach Kenyans how to move beyond survival entrepreneurship. When so many community members said they wanted a tailoring class, I had to get creative. I knew there had to be a way to empower these youth without having to buy or find at least 20 sewing machines. So I Googled “hand sewing.” Of course, that led me to Natalie and Alabama Chanin!
When they realized that hand sewing is an art that people will pay the big bucks for, they were clearly inspired. They also loved learning that Natalie started with second-hand clothes. Your story is so perfect for these students! Every Monday and Friday from 10:00 am to noon, a core group of at least 21 students meet together to inspire each other to master hand sewing as a means to becoming tailors.
Our first group project is to make three new curtains for the local church that graciously hosts many of our classes, sewing and others. The current embroidered velvet curtains are at least 20 years old and are falling apart! We’re using this project to teach them the value of criticism for the creative process. These youth have been taught to be good students, to do perfect work and to make no mistakes! What a challenge to open their eyes to the power of critique! We are learning how to teach the students to have the sensibilities of an artist.
Our first response was: Wow. We’ve so often marveled at the power of the internet, its potential as a teaching tool, and its ability to connect those all over the world in shared experiences. We know this to be true and have seen it in action, but this connection felt larger—like a confirmation that the Alabama Chanin mission of sustainability and advancement of the “living arts” has meaning on a global level.
We immediately responded to Nirvana’s email with some online sewing resources that they could access immediately (including our tutorial on making curtains and other DIY projects) and an offer to send physical materials for their group. We soon received an email update:
The sewing group is still working on the muslin version of the church curtain using negative reverse appliqué (thanks for the curtain link!), appliqué, and needlepoint components for their design which is a great stretch for them!
We are so excited for your offer of some amazing Alabama Chanin goodies! We will indeed send you updates of how we continue to be inspired by your company and kindness.
We carefully packed and shipped a package to the group, filled with sewing notions, a copy of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, and fabric scraps. Our team anxiously awaited word that our care package arrived safely, as delivery from Alabama to Kenya might take weeks, even months. We recently received an email confirmation that our shipment was indeed received by Nirvana and will soon be shared with the students:
My daughter picked up the package yesterday (and carefully peeked inside, of course!) before we give it to the sewing group to open on Friday! We will take photos of the unveiling and send along to you.
Thank you, Alabama Chanin, for touching the lives of these women. I am so eager to discover what they do with your inspiration! They’re profoundly touched that you know of and care about them.
We are anxious and excited to receive updates from Nirvana and the class. Look for more updates on this new, unexpected global learning initiative soon. The School of Making continues to grow.