Everyone knows that when attempting any sort of project, it's important to have the right tools on hand. One of the big challenges in working with the women at the Khama Sewing Center in Kasungu is the lack of proper, working sewing tools. I work with the women while they sew and one of the things that I do is pin the pattern templates on the chitenji (fabric) and cut them out.
I mainly work on smaller pieces like the credit card cases or coin purses. When I was at the sewing center in August I had trouble cutting the chitenji because the scissors I was using were so dull. Unless I found the exact place on the scissor’s blades that was still sharp enough to cut, the chitenji would simply bend when I tried to cut it. It was very frustrating to say the least. I decided to buy a couple of pairs of decent scissors for the group. I asked Amos, the supervisor to take me to the best place in Kasungu to buy scissors and I told him that money was not an object. Amos was excited, the women were excited and off we went.
When we got to the shop, photo above, Amos asks, in chichewa, for the women's finest scissors. She shows us three boxes of scissors that all look the same: rusty and dull. Our task was to pick out the pair with the least amount of rust on them in hopes that they'd be a little better than the scissors we had previously been using. Once back at the sewing center the new scissors did cut somewhat better than the old ones...after we wiped the rust off of them.
Anyone who does any sewing knows that an iron is crucial. You use an iron to flatten the seams once you have sewn them, to take the wrinkles out of a piece of fabric before you begin cutting it, to fold hems before you sew them and, once the piece is finished, to iron it so it looks neat and professional. The women did have an ironing area set up with a decent iron. The problem was that during the week and a half I was at the sewing center there was sporadic electricity availability with outages lasting for days at a time. Amos did take some materials to his home (where there was electricity and a functioning iron) and did some ironing at night, but still a lot of the products lacked adequate, flat seams. The inner seams in the iPad cases also needed to be trimmed which was an issue because of the scissor situation. When I got back to the US I had to dust my iron off (I hardly ever us it, the dryer works fine for me) and iron everything. It was a chore but it did give me the chance to see all the beautiful patterns in the chitenji again and admire the work the women had done. As a side bonus, I got to catch up on the television I missed while I was gone and didn't feel guilty about it!