Monday, December 26, 2011

Fourteen Reasons to Smile

OK, I realize I haven't been posting as regularly as last year.  I've been crazy busy and almost every moment this past week has been taken up with activity. Today (Boxing Day) we are taking it easy, since Gordon seems to have picked up some sort of flu bug and is sleeping it off.  I haven't been stricken as badly, so it's a good day to catch up on things....especially my blog.  

The market in Battambang has the biggest selection of fabric I've ever seen in one place, and the prices are so low it would make you cry.  I wish I had a huge suitcase to bring it all back!  On the last day of our mini-vacation there, Susan mentioned she'd love to buy some fabric for 'play-skirts' for the girls at Honour Village.  I said I'd go with her to help select several yards, since (in one of my insane moments) I'd offered to sew them - all fourteen of them!  Somehow our wires got crossed, and before I'd had a chance to meet up with her, she showed up at the hotel carrying a huge bundle - 10 meters of stretch knit fabric.  I have to admit, the colours were lovely and bright....definitely what little girls would be delighted to have....but if you sew at all, you'll quickly understand that these lovely fabrics staring back at me represented nothing short of a seamstress's nightmare.

Stretch knits just don't sew up the same as woven fabrics.  Rather than piercing the layers, the sewing machine needle seems to bounce off the stretchy fabric, resulting in skipped stitches....basically a messy job.  The only way I know to get around that is to use special needles - 'ballpoint' or 'stretch' needles - manufactured specifically for this purpose.  BUT, in Cambodia, these are unheard of....definitely not an option.  An even bigger challenge was going to be using the treadle sewing machine - one that I was totally unfamiliar with.  No luxury of electricity here.  I cut my teeth on a treadle machine, so that wasn't the problem, but each machine has a slightly different bobbin system, so it was going to be 'learn-as-you-go'.  After several trips to the market, stretch fabric in hand, I managed to communicate (mostly by gesticulating) with a few ladies working at sewing machines.  They were able to give me a few ideas and suggestions on how to proceed.  After all, if this fabric is sold here, they're obviously sewing with it. 

To make life easy (and because I had no pattern) I decided on a simple style - a long-ish skirt, gathered with elastic at the waist.  (Short skirts are considered immodest here).  Each girl got to pick her favourite fabric, starting with the oldest girl. 

Back at Honour Village, a few experiments finally produced some nice seams.  Now the biggest challenge was trying to stitch fabric, surrounded by 20 to 30 little 'helpers' who wanted to pin and unpin fabric and 'help' me feed the fabric through the machine.  They were curious and anxious to imitate, and I needed eyes at the back of my head to make sure no fingers got caught in the mechanisms, or worse yet, in the serger located next to the treadle machine, which was a huge temptation for them... yikes!   

Four days later (and many hours hunched over the machine), fourteen pretty little skirts were ready....  Just in time for Christmas Day.  Fourteen happy little girls.  Fourteen reasons to smile.

Fourteen new skirts

A curtsy

A little bit of glitter in this one

Just for me!

One of the older girls on the balcony in her new skirt.  Isn't she lovely!


  1. Oh Dorothy - you make my heart sing!!

  2. Love them, soooo pretty. What a delightful thing to do for and with these waifs.