Sewing Classes for Refugees

WTB’s sewing program for refugees is so popular that as many as 54 people are have been on the waiting list!  This program, led by a small group of WTB volunteers, is one of our most successful programs and makes a big difference for the persons who attend.

Graduates of previous class are sewing at home, having learned the basics in the class and received a donated sewing machine of their own. They also get some basic materials (thread, pins, needles and bobbins) to start them off.

According to Jennifer Crittenden, who coordinates the program,  this class does not prepare the students for sewing employment, but the job placement experts tell her that having experience with a sewing machine on their resumes is a plus when seeking other kinds of jobs.

The schedule follows the city school district calendar. Students meet one day a week for 8 weeks, noon to 2:30, in the basement of the Northside Learning Center, 501 Park Street, which is in the heart of the refugee community on Syracuse’s Northside.  Students come from Bhutan, Burma, Somalia, Iraq and Sudan. While almost all students are women, one man has taken the class.

The space is bright, with large windows for natural light and large tables for sewing machines and fabric layout.  The students begin by learning to sew a small pillow stuffed with fiberfil, and then they progress in steps making a potholder, apron,  shoulder bag, and elastic-waist pants. They conclude with a final project of a tunic or blouse pattern of their own choice.  Each of these projects  is designed to introduce a new technique, from straight stitching, to curves, to using a pattern, to fitting the pattern to the individual body.

The program’s initial funding came from a grant from the Presbytery of Cayuga/Syracuse. A grant from a Lutheran organization enables it to continue.

In the future Jennifer says she hopes to add scissors to the bag given the graduates,  as  most could only afford lower quality ones from a dollar store.  Each student receives a lesson on the use of the machine, either in the last class or at the student’s home.

Jennifer says the greatest need is for volunteers. Many of those who’ve been doing this several years are retired and travel, so they need substitutes. Also the teachers would like to add a scissors to the “graduation gifts” as many can’t afford a good quality one.

WTB volunteers have been meeting with refugee women since 2004. They joke that they were called the “hokey-pokey women, ” as that was one of the song activities they did with the women. In 2010 the group evolved into a class, teaching sewing skills.