Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sewing serendipity


By JOELLEN COLLINS

A couple of months ago, I started another sewing project as gifts for the female orphans in Teresa Grant's loving home for them near Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. I am planning a trip there in February once again as a volunteer and will work with 21 children, teaching those interested in quilting and applique techniques, reading with them and generally helping out in any way I can. I have written before about this orphanage and how my volunteering there opened up my life in unexpected ways. Several other volunteers have experienced a similar impact from encountering these young African lives.

This labor of love, which I will try to do annually if possible, is not something I feel martyred about. It is much more, selfishly, a happy and productive time for me as I create a dress for a child I really know. I almost feel my mother near me, cheering me on. For a few days (actually weeks) I turn my living room into a fabrophiliac's paradise adorned with scraps of bright fabric everywhere, button boxes on the mantel and colored thread piled in boxes, which actually look festive. I enjoy this creative chaos—I have chosen it. I do not expect kudos and abundant praise—many people work hard many more hours a week than I do in helping others.

This time, however, something happened with my project that reminds me, as I enjoy Thanksgiving in Northern California, once again to count my blessings for the people who inhabit not only the larger giving world, but the Wood River Valley and my circle of friends and acquaintances who exhibit a generosity that may define them. In a way, this column hearkens back to the tradition we had at my childhood Thanksgiving tables of sharing all the things for which we were thankful. It was like a really serious gratitude list and made the festivities even more meaningful than merely the presence of such delicious food.

I am thankful for the resource of the Fabric Granary in Hailey and the help of the quilters/sewers who patronize and work in this beautiful store. A bonus of shopping at a local establishment is that I often meet other acquaintances and valley residents who share a passion for the texture, color and design characteristics of fabrics as well as tips and techniques. Shortly after I bought some fabric for the dresses, I received a phone call from a Carey woman who had been in the store that day. She offered to help me sew some of the pieces. Eventually, she created three wraparound skirts for the "dadas" (caretakers) who nurture the Kili Kids. Another local woman heard about my efforts while visiting my friend and my dog at Tully's and called me to help. She sewed two dresses for the younger girls and is still willing to help next time!

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Two other people sent me even more fabric, one the sister of a woman who helped me plan my upcoming trip. Word spread without any effort on my part: A cousin sent money for the (expensive) shipping, a friend and manicurist/pedicurist started a campaign to get sample T-shirts from local stores for the boys, and my daughter's company (Zynga) in San Francisco is collecting items for the kids as well. A friend who is traveling with me and her mother put finishing touches on the simple dresses. Another woman from the valley has now volunteered for Tanzania, so there will be three of us traveling to Africa together. We will thus be able to take three duffel bags filled with gifts. I had been hesitant to go alone this time, but look what happened: The world as I know it opened its arms.

When a friend said she would like me to teach her how to sew, I thought of a plan for spring. I will arrange a small workshop in my house and each participant can make a simple dress with the new measurements I will get in Africa as a guide. They can practice cutting out a pattern, using a sewing machine and learning other techniques of basic sewing while at the same time making something to be treasured by a parentless child.

Giving thanks today for all I have, for my expanded family and for the abundance of my life, I can also add my enthusiasm for this town, these people and all the generous hearts who respond so positively to the needs of others less fortunate.




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