WTB volunteers have been meeting with refugee women since 2004, and the sewing classes for new Americans began in 2010. Our sewing program at the Northside Learning Center is so popular that as many as 54 people 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. Students have come from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam. While almost all students are women, a few men have also taken the class.
Sewing classes are going well, now in the third session for the 2016-17 year. This session will end with machine and fabric giveaway on March 23, with the fourth and final class beginning a week later.
Students meet one day a week for eight weeks, 12:15 to 2:45 pm, in the basement of the Northside Learning Center, 501 Park St., which is in the heart of the refugee community on Syracuse’s north side. 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.
Students who complete the sessions get a donated sewing machine, so they can use their new skills at home and make items for their family or to sell. Each student receives a lesson on the use of the machine, either in the last class or at the student’s home. They also get some basic materials (scissors, thread, pins, needles and bobbins) to start them off.
The schedule follows the city school district calendar. Supplies and volunteers are always needed. Many of those who’ve been doing this for several years are retired and travel, so they need substitutes. Contact Jennifer Crittenden at 633-2817 if you’re interested in donating a machine, fabric or notions, or in volunteering in the program. Visitors to the class are always welcome but need to arrive by 12:15, since the doors are locked for safety as soon as everyone is in.
This class does not prepare the students for sewing employment, but the job placement experts say that having experience with a sewing machine on their resumes is a plus when seeking other kinds of jobs.
The program’s initial funding came from grants from Lutheran and Presbyterian organizations. A grant from a Lutheran organization enables it to continue. Our program has received valuable donations from Feminine Touch Fabrics, Singer Service Center, Jo-Ann Fabrics, and many individuals who have donated fabric, notions, and sewing machines.
Click here for an article in the Post Standard in February, 2012, about our work with these refugee women (scroll to the middle).