Saturday, January 31, 2009

First Day in Mbarara

We arrived in Mbarara yesterday late afternoon, and after a sound sleep only disturbed by the barking of local dogs (howling would be more like it), we spent today reacquainting ourselves with local fabric shops, and searching once again unsuccessfully for solid black fabric. Solid coloured cottons seem to be non-existent in Uganda. Obusingye (oh-boo-singe-yi), pictured here, and her daughter Agnes, were pleased to sell to us from their collection of veritable wax fabrics. We also found some dynamite fabric from the Congo in her shop. And some thin blankets we think we can use for batting at another nearby vendor.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

First Days in Kampala

After almost two days of travelling, it was terrific to see David on the other side of the barrier at the Entebbe airport. He brought us into Kampala, where we stayed for two nights. Our mosquito netting gave us the feeling of being in a little hide-away. The mystery was how the mosquitos made it into the net, and when we squished them in the morning, it was a little distressing to see our blood oozing from them.

Imagine our surprise when on our fist visit to one of the craft markets, we discovered these quilted bags - one of the projects we had planned to conduct with the women in Mbarara. Time for a little revising of plans. We met the woman making these bags - Daphne - and learned that a friend from Chicago had taught her patchwork. We promised to return and teach her some new designs when we come back to Kampala.

Yesterday we headed down to the fabric markets, and managed to choose some lovely designs. Most of these will be used by the women in the sewing project, but others will make it back to Canada with us, and will be incorporated into kits or cut up into fat quarters. Today will see us heading off to Mbarara, a five and a half hour ride from Kampala, where we will settle into Canada House.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Change in Scenery

Imagine my surprise when I woke this morning to this. A gentle dusting, to be sure, but a white world all the same. Tomorrow we will leave this world on a bullet-like structure with wings, we will rise into the air despite every sensible notion in us that says it is not possible, and half a day later will land in London. Seven hours in Heathrow Airport, and then another of these "birds" will continue the journey, until we land in Entebbe, at 8:10 on Wednesday morning.
There David will meet us, and drive us through landscape that looks more like this, to the capital city of Kampala. It will be hot, and I will try not to complain when I remember how chilled I was a few short hours before. We will sleep under mosquito nets, and sip on mango and pineapple juice, as we try to aclimatize ourselves to the leap from one world into another.
Uganda is lush and green, and magnificent trees like this flame tree, scent the air and lure exotic birds to their branches. Colour abounds everywhere. Bananas, pineapples and mangos are sold by the side of the road. In a day or two, it will feel like home.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Grandmothers' Quilts

Every year for the last five years, Kitambaa Designs has made a quilt as a way to raise funds for the Widows and Grandmothers' Groups of Uganda. Funds have been directed to scholarships for young women to attend secondary school, rental of garden plots so groups of grandmothers can grow the crops they need to feed their families, and adequate housing for a number of individuals who would not have had it otherwide. Last year we sold "opportunities to own" this quilt, and from all who donated to his cause, we drew the name of one lucky person - Linda White, a member of the Boundary Bay Quilters' Guild -who now owns this quilt. The design is called "Boullabaise", and is a pattern published by Pie in the Sky Quilts.

I thought you would like to see a photo of this year's grandmothers' quilt. It's queen size, and when all the blocks in it are sold ($5 each), we will draw the name of one person who bought a square, and that person will recieve the quilt. This year the funds raised through this will go directly to the Kitambaa Sewing & Quilting Project. As soon as all 361 squares have been sold (133 have been sold so far), the draw will be made. It's a design made from the book "Nickel Quilts", by Pat Speth.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Weighing in at the Airport

Today we weighed in at the Comox Airport. Our four totes totalled almost exactly 200 lb. - very little redistribution needed - a tin of tuna and a bag of granola were shifted from one tote to another, and the balsamic vinegar made the cut. But most importantly, all the fabric, scissors, thread and wool passed inspection at Pacific Coastal Airlines, who will fly us from Comox to Vancouver on Monday. Joan looks relieved, don't you think?

In less than a week, we will be shedding our winter clothes for those of summer, hopefully persuading our African sisters to show us how to wrap a kitenge around us, to wear in the equatorial heat. Three such women are pictured in this small wall-hanging I made for my sister-in-law, Mary, for Christmas.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Goddess of the Last Minute

My friends have borrowed a phrase from Robbi Joy Eklow in calling me Goddess of the Last Minute, but I have to confess they've hit the nail on the head. I seem to be one of those people that works best to a deadline. So the last few days, when I should have calmly continued packing and planning for Uganda, I've been madly stitching on my entry for the CQA (Canadian Quilters' Association) NJS (National Juried Show). I'll post a photo of the finished quilt, once I hear if it's been accepted to the show or not. In the meantime, I'd best get back to work . . .

Monday, January 19, 2009

Packing for Uganda

Today saw Joan and I making up the sewing kits that will be given to each woman in the sewing project. What fun! Bags made by Janet Finch and friends in Port Alberni have being filled with notions donated by Huckleberry's and others we have purchased from donated funds, pincushions from the Westshore Quilters' Guild, thread donated by Carola's Thread Company and notebooks and pencils from Staples. Note the absence of rotary cutters - we'll be making a return to the ruler and scissors method with these women.

In this tote, food supplies to supplement local fare, and seasonings to make it all a little more palatable (chipotle sauce for Joan and teriyaki sauce for Pippa), have been packed in with flannelette donated by Fabricland (this will be used as a substitue for batting in quilts until we can work out a more sustainable filler - at the moment it seems that inexpensive blankets might work best). Also practice fabrics from a multitude of women, and 20 quilts made by Paula Eng from Victoria. Dora, a 92 year old friend from Courtenay, also gave us two full size quilts. Our baggage allowance is 3-50 lb. bags each, so 6 in total. Four are already full!

When we reach Kampala, one of our first visits will be with the Nalugo Traders. We will purchase lots of veritable wax fabrics from these folks, using other donated funds. More fabric will be bought from the traders in Mbarara. Most of the fabrics imported by Kitambaa Designs over the last 2 years have come from Nalugo Traders, in fact you may recognize some of the fabrics in the pile growing on the counter.
Meet Perez. He is a wonderful man - an ACTS worker based in Rubingo. I just had word this morning that he has now chosen all the participants for the sewing project - 4 women from Kikigati in the south, 5 from Rubingo, and 2 from Lake Bunyonyi. Plus Alice, makes 12. The treadle sewing machines have been assembled, reservations made for the women at a nearby hostel, and meals arranged. There will be tea breaks mid-morning - all we have to do now is buy the biscuits.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Trunk Shows and Classes

I have just returned from a delightful week in Abbotsfrod and Vancouver. Diana, my wonder-hostess, is pictured here on the right. She and her mother took fabulous care of me, so much so that I am already dreaming up reasons to return. I presented Trunk Shows to both the Abbotsford Quilters' Guild and the Vancouver Quilters' Guild, and also taught classes for both Guilds. Here Diana and Doris are holding up one of my earliest Africa-inspired quilts, "Pottus Afrikanus", featuring block-printed fabric from a women's cooperative in Zimbabwe.

This quilt is "Under the Mexican Sun", and is an alternate arrangement for my pattern "Under the African Sun".

Here is a small wallhanging made by Trudy Thorne, one of my faithful "worker bees". Silk-screened village scenes that I found on my visit to Uganda two years ago, are featured in the centre of wonky log cabins.
This most unusual quilt, is made by Joan Darling, my other faithful "worker bee". She collected the labels from a sampling of our veritable wax fabrics, and made a quilt featuring all them. Each 12 yard length we receive from Uganda has such a label attached, in addition to having the same information printed on the selvage.
And, of course, there was time at both Guilds for a little shopping. My "little shop on wheels" accompanied me to both the Abbotsford and Vancouver Quilters' Guilds, and proved as popular as ever. African fabrics. lino prints, batiks and more, joined ranks with hand-dyed, sun-dyed and batik fabrics, and are now bubbling away in the recesses of various quilters' imaginations, awaiting their next quilts.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Alice's Tailoring School

Meet Alice. Alice lives in Rubingo, a rural area about 2 hours over rough roads from Mbarara. Mbarara is where the Kitambaa Project will be conducted, and is 5 hours southwest of Kampala. I met Alice two years ago and was impressed by the quality of garments she was making. She will be teaching our students the basics in sewing with a treadle sewing machine, during our first week of classes. Joan and I tried our hand (our feet) at sewing on a treadle machine ourselves last week, and will clearly need significant help from Alice ourselves!

These were some of Alice's students at the time I visited her. They were carefully taking down instructions in their notebooks, and practicing making various styles of garments using only heavy brown paper, needle and thread. No pins, no fabric, no chairs. But they do have a transistor radio. We will be visiting Rubingo and Alice's Tailoring School at the end of the three week of classes.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Kitambaa Sewing & Quilting Project

Kitambaa Designs can no longer be accused of being a luddite. Here we are starting a blog, and learning to post photos to it. The motivating factor, for sure, is our upcoming Sewing and Quilting Project in rural Uganda. For those of you unfamiliar with what we will be doing, here is an overview:

As many of you know, I was able to visit Uganda two years ago, where I met with groups of widows and grandmothers, and talked with them about learning to sew and making items for sale in the craft markets. I met women who were “tailors”, running sewing schools, and checked out what was already being made and sold to the tourists; I sourced out the supplies they used and the equipment they needed, and returned home feeling a growing desire to work with these women, training them with skills from which they could earn income for their families.

I began fund-raising through Kitambaa Designs almost as soon as I got home, hoping to return to Uganda to conduct a sewing project in early 2008. But it was not feasible for us to go then, nor were there sufficient funds at that time. The dream to return to Uganda took two years to come to fruition instead of one. But on January 26th, Joan Darling and I will fly to Entebbe, and then drive south and west to Mbarara, where we will take part in the first Kitambaa Sewing and Quilting Project. This never could never have happened without the enormous support I have received from so many people. People who purchased “Stars for Africa”, and luggage tags; people who bought tickets for the grandmothers’ quilt and donated money for treadle sewing machines, people who donated sewing kits, and supplies, and fabric. Without a doubt, this project is a group effort. And although you won’t be there with us in person, I feel the spirit of so many of you going with us. Thank you so very, very much.

The sewing project itself will see 10-12 women from outlying areas coming to Mbarara for three weeks. There we will have a treadle sewing machine for each woman. Alice, one of the tailors I met two years ago, will teach them the basics of using a treadle sewing machine. Their first project will be to make a pillow case, in which they will keep their fabric and finished items, to protect them from the dust. Each woman will also receive a sewing kit, including scissors and pins, thread and bobbins, spare needles, templates for their designs, and notebooks in which to record instructions.

Their second project will be bags – the kind that are being sold to replace paper bags and plastic bags. A simple two-fabric bag will be taught first, then variations on that. Next there will be the making of placemats and napkins. Then we will move onto simple quilts. Of course, these plans are just plans, and everything will remain flexible.

During the three weeks of instruction, Joan and I will stay in Canada House, a rondavel (round, thatched-roof home) that is owned by the organization my husband works with, Africa Community Technical Service. The women will stay in a nearby hostel, and have their meals provided at a community centre. The classes will be held next to Canada House, under another round thatched roof, but open to the air. Geckos run up the walls, and bougainvillea climbs the support beams. But each woman will have a sewing machine complete with table, and a chair, and at the end of the three weeks, we will transport her back to her village along with her sewing machine and supplies.

The marketing of the goods they produce, and the ongoing provision of supplies, will be managed by a woman chosen from the group, in order for the project to be sustainable. Links with an umbrella craft organization in Kampala I met with two years ago will be further investigated, and other market possibilities will be researched. Material will be purchased from the local vendors, as will coal-heated irons, thread, and scissors.

Joan and I will travel to Lake Bunyoni during our fourth week in Uganda, where there are women who are already sewing clothing for sale through the efforts of another Canadian. We will be checking out possibilities for adding some quilted items to the already impressive repertoire of these women. Our fifth week will see us travelling to Rubingo, where Alice’s Tailoring School is, and see if there are ways to strengthen her school, and to support an already talented lady in her training program. We will be visiting secondary school students who are proceeding in their education through bursaries from Kitambaa and others, and the grandmothers’ garden plots rented through other funds raised by us in past years. We will visit Kikigati, to the south of the country, from where some of the women in our project will come.

So these are some of the details. Although all sorts of things could change once we arrive. For now, let us say that we’re excited and trepidatious. I hope that through this blog, we will be able to show you specifics of the project, and our time in Africa, as events unfold. Thank you once again to the many, many people who have been part of this undertaking.