Cameroon Task Force

Sewing 2012: Part 1 of 2

French is the primary language in Kribi and I don’t know any French. So, it’s very convenient that Butterick, and Simplicity patterns are printed English and French. I cut out the French instructions and pasted them over the English ones. Nancy Clifton (Team Cameroon, 2010), a retired French teacher, translated my instructions for putting zippers into bags. Taking supplies for the school and medical supplies were our highest priority, so I took the originals of each to Africa and made the day of a local business when I had 20 photo copies of each set of instructions printed.

A New Journey Begins!

(Sewing 2012)

My Story

Barb Knapp:  The Kribi sewing project started for me one night when I was working at home on African fabric bags to sell at the SJUMC Craft Sale. (All proceeds from the sale supports the Nurse’s Aide Training Center we are creating in Cameroon.) I was sewing bags from the beautiful fabric I bought in African markets in 2010. The women there make dresses and shirts, but there were no bags made from the fabrics I love, so I started making them myself. That’s when hit me…. I ought to share this skill with the women in Cameroon. This is one of the poorest countries on earth, bags would be pretty inexpensive to make and could be sold in the marketplace. I tried to talk myself out of this several times but the seed had been planted. I explained my vision to Cathie who agreed, it was a good idea.

Gathering Supplies and Planning for Project

To make this work I knew we’d needed sewing machines, patterns, sewing supplies and a willing group of Cameroonian sewers. Walt Hays let us select two sewing machines, and a serger from those donated to the church – the rest would find their way to sewing cooperatives in central America. I selected two older (1966) workhorse Singers that were made in England, downloaded the original owner’s manual, found zipper feet, extra needles, and made sure they ran correctly before loading them into suitcases for the trip. Then I shopped for ribbons, trims, pins, and patterns – some from garage sales, Joann’s Fabric store, and some donations. Madame Pauline recruited women of Kribi who were interested in sewing bags.

French is the primary language in Kribi and I don’t know any French. So, it’s very convenient that Butterick, and Simplicity patterns are printed English and French. I cut out the French instructions and pasted them over the English ones. Nancy Clifton (Team Cameroon, 2010), a retired French teacher, translated my instructions for putting zippers into bags. Taking supplies for the school and medical supplies were our highest priority, so I took the originals of each to Africa and made the day of a local business when I had 20 photo copies of each set of instructions printed.

Fast forward to June, 2012 when the SJUMC team arrived in Kribi and I wondered just how this project would unfold. Pauline recruited Madame Olive (pronounced the French way it is Oh-leave) who is a seamstress in high demand to work with me. She is about my age, mom of Seraphin, a 30-something graduate student in Douala, who drove us around Kribi in 2010. Olive understands some English. A student-seamstress, Edith (pronounced eh-deet), spoke a good amount of English, and knows how to sew. Between the three of us we could communicate just about everything, even if we didn’t understood the words each other spoke.

Fabric Shopping

(Sewing 2012)

The Kribi Market

We three hit the market Monday morning (and every day thereafter) buying fabric and sewing supplies and found just about everything we needed except webbing for bag handles. (I selected material used to pleat draperies, split it down the middle and covered it with fabric. Though it was not easy to convince Olive in the beginning, it worked out just fine.

A Labyrinth of Trails

Shopping in the local market is a very interesting experience. Markets in Kribi are a labyrinth of trails established over time, with unpredictable stones polished by years of shoes popping up at inopportune moments. Most have a secure room to hold valuable goods at night. But during the day, the shops extend out several feet towards the walking path with bright displays of goods for sale. Fabrics are typically sold in 6 meter lengths. If you like it, you buy the whole thing. Each shop owner had a few buttons, zippers, threads, decorations and scissors displayed in attractive if somewhat cluttered displays. Kribi buyers typically know which shops sells items. For me, each shop was the opportunity to dig around for special bargains. Along the way I was always stopping to admire another piece of fabric and Olive and Edith would use vocabulary of, “no, no Barbara, come on.”

A Bright Beginning

(Sewing 2012)

Making A Table Runner

Almost all the student seamstresses were recruited from a program for teen aged girls and women who are orphans, those who were living on the streets . Some looked very young. Some looked scared and barely spoke a word. They were all parents of young children. All wanted to provide for their families.

The women were at the Center by 8 am every morning (an hour before the rest of the work started) and often worked the rest of the day on projects started in class. They were a fine group of women and soon believed the projects were making would improve their lives as seamstresses.

The first day of sewing was Tuesday, and I started out with a simple table runner. We copied one I picked up at a garage sale – it was about 40′ x 12′ and came to a point at each end. Simple enough to sew, it was an easy way for us to get to know each other, find out what each of us knew about sewing and build some rapport. I gave each woman a plastic measuring tape that day and each wore it proudly around her neck, hanging down like a scarf, every day afterwards.

Pricing

I knew I had their trust when I showed them a seamstress trick to simplify making the 90 degree angle at each end. We concluded with a discussion on how to price goods for sale in the local marketplace. They came up with a good price for the table runner, made in beautiful African fabric. But, if they could find the upholstery fabric of the demonstration model, well, they were sure they could get much more. I had to laugh because the Americans would pay more for the African fabric model.

Basket Making

(Sewing 2012)

New Concepts

The basket was a little more complicated and required more cutting skills than most of them had. I drew the pattern on the blackboard with dimension, cutting and stitching lines. The notions of a straight edge, 90 degree corners and cutting with a pattern pinned to the material were new concepts to these students. But they did know how to take best advantage of the designs on the fabric, making bias tape and using it to bind edges. Go figure.

Proud Basket Makers

The first basket was completed by a student seamstress that day in class, the rest were completed by the next morning. Each was justifiably proud of her work, and I was even more proud. When I went to the market that afternoon, I found the first basket on display and presumably for sale.

By this time a few ladies from the community, who had received eyeglasses in the next room, asked if they could join our class. We had pretty well maxed out the space and we were already limited by the number of sewing machines we had. (the ladies brought in a treadle machine which really helped out when the electricity was not available). Edith proudly told those who inquired that this class was just for them.

Read part 2

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