Saturday, February 11, 2012

And Sew It Goes....

Despite a couple of starts and stops, regular sewing classes are (finally) fully underway. After the trials and tribulations of plastic canvas, we moved on to basic hand sewing stitches.  Their first project was a little drawstring bag, which the students now use to hold the sewing needle case we made, along with some spools of thread. 

Smile of pride

I made it myself!

Now we're finally getting into the good stuff, the fun stuff ~ Embroidery ~ fancy stitches whose sole purpose is to be decorative and beautiful, and to give pleasure to the needle artist that creates them.  

I teach embroidery three days a week.
There are about 25 students, divided between 3 classes per day. 
Ages range from eight to fourteen.
Skill levels range from fair to amazing.

Each morning I arrive, I'm greeted with questioning eyes, and "Day?"  (Khmer for "Sewing?"), as they make hand motions of pulling a needle and thread.  These kids just love embroidery and can't wait to get to class for the next lesson.  Once they've all settled and materials are distributed, each child needs to be shown the next step 'one-on-one'.  It's the best method I've found to teach hand sewing, even when there is no a language barrier.  If I stand behind them, and work on their piece, letting my hands be their hands, they seem to easily grasp the steps. 
Teaching individually also gives me an opportunity
to sneak in some hugs

Watch carefully to see how it's done!

Sela, who is one of the housemothers, is a big help.
She translates important instructions into Khmer,
and is also learning to embroider at the same time.

Sometimes I find teaching these complicated stitches challenging, because my Khmer is fairly limited.  Something I've also had to keep in mind is 'lefties' and 'righties', because most stitches will have different approaches.  (I switch-hit for the lefties).   Getting everyone started and under way takes a little while, and sometimes the students get impatient while waiting their turn, but eventually, all heads are bent and all eyes are focused intently on their work. 

OK, so some can't resist looking up at the camera.....
Total concentration

More boys than girls
It just worked out that way
Careful stitches

Sometimes hair gets in the way

This boy was labelled 'unteachable' because he is failing in school.
Even on his first attempt, his skills are excellent and his work is beautiful.
"Unteachable?"  I don't THINK so!

As the class sits quietly stitching, a light breeze comes through the open windows.  For a few blessed moments, the only sounds are of birds chirping, and the background noises of everday activities outside - the clatter of plates and cutlery as tables are set for lunch, the 'chop-chop' of cooks preparing vegetables, the 'zzz-zzz' as Gordon saws wood by hand,  and squeals of little ones playing.   Inside my classroom, the children are hushed, focused and deep in concentration.... for a few moments anyways.... Then one after another, they'll hit a roadblock, or have a question, or need more thread or need help fixing a mistake...and then it starts.   "T'Cha! T'Cha!" (Teacher! Teacher!)...and I'm on the run again.

One or two are struggling, and I try to give them all the help and encouragement I can, but most of these kids are really bright and pick it up quickly.    Delight and pride are evident in their facial expressions.  

When I was six years old (many, many years ago),  my very patient grandmother taught me some basic embroidery.  I remember clearly that I stitched a blue bird with a red breast onto a pillowcase, probably made out of a flour sack.  (My mother treasured that scraggly creation for many years).  Those few hours of her loving attention instilled a passion for needle art that has never left me.  Now at the same age that my grandmother was then, I am trying to carry her gift forward.   If she were alive today, I wonder what she would think of it all.

Thanks, Grandma!


  1. I am certain that your grandmother would be delighted with you Dorothy - as am I !

  2. Fantastic Dorothy - just love the pictures.

  3. This is fantastic, Dorothy. If a small gift of floss or fabric would be useful please let me know.

  4. Thank you so much for your kind and generous offer! I've been fortunate to receive several gifts and donations of floss, and for this coming year, I think I will have plenty. I am excited to be returning to Honour Village for 3 months this December 20. The children are looking forward to more needlework, and I am looking forward to seeing the children.