Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Little More Hope for Haïti

A couple weekends ago, I took the train and bus far, far up North to attend my first event for a new group I joined called Chicagoans help Haiti. It was a sewing workshop to make dresses and pants for children orphaned by last year's earthquake. We were instructed to bring some t-shirts (for pants) or pillowcases (for dresses) and a $1 donation. I didn't really know what to expect. Frankly, I thought it'd be a bunch of old people. But I gave it a shot anyway.

I met someone while I was walking in who was around my age, which was quite comforting. As we were handing in our t-shirts, we realized we both had shirts from Threadless, so we obviously hit it off right away. We chatted and hung out a bit throughout the event, then exchanged emails as we were leaving. Turns out she is freelance photographer, and I sometimes freelance write. We thought we could team up sometime in the future to work on an article or project together.

The event itself was a well-oiled machine if I ever saw one. Two head sewer ladies supervised the whole process of ironing, tracing, snipping, pinning, elasticing, unpinning and sewing the little pants and dresses, which also had little pockets. Each t-shirt and each pillowcase went through 10+ steps before its transformation into a pair of pants or a dress. Every single station was manned and humming with conversation and laughter. It looked like everyone was having a good time.

When I wasn't taking notes, I was on the elastic crew. I sat with two lovely nice old French ladies and guided pieces of elastic through dress collars. I enjoyed creeping in on their French conversation. Actually, I was super shy around them and apprehensive to let them know I spoke French. I told them I was embarrassed I would make mistakes. "That's how we feel in English!" they said. "I am sure we make mistakes all the time." I felt a little bit better and so I chatted with them in French.

As I was working away, I thought that it kind of seemed silly to bring all these people here to spend a few hours sewing clothes when each person could just have easily gone to a thrift store and purchased some children's clothing for a few measly dollars. But as I looked around, I understood that people wouldn't get the same feeling of accomplishment out of donating someone's old and forgotten clothes. We were all working collectively to make something that would benefit others, and that's why the sewing workshop was a good idea. Most of the people couldn't even sew, but they were given simple tasks that didn't require sewing skills. The event also brought friends and strangers together over a common philanthropic goal. Plus those head sewer ladies were awesome at delegating, so a lot got done. I left before the event was over, but the pants and dresses were piling up as I left. I hope they make some little Haitian kids happy.

Here are some of my photos, which are pretty awful. I wasn't dedicating too much time to taking them. If you'd like to see some really great photos — including one of me working hard on that elastic — visit Sarah Tilotta Photography's Haiti Sewing Workshop album. She's my new photographer friend, and you'll quickly see that she's great at what she does!

patterns for boys' pants.

That's Sarah's pillowcase! I am sure it made a great dress. I really like the pattern. I wish I had a dress with that pattern.

Super awesome sewer lady on the right. She seriously kicked butt. She was so nice and so efficient, which is not easy to do at the same time.

Cute little girls who served as models for the dresses. For even cuter photos, see Sarah's album.

Once a t-shirt, now little boy pants.

Once a pillowcase, now a little girl dress.

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