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.


  1. Great start to your blog! the colours are easy to read and easy on the eyes. Your header is lively.

  2. Thanks for taking us along via blogspot. I look forward to your updates and photos. Bet there are ten very excited women awaiting your arrival in Mbarara. Lots of dancing, I'd expect.