Dorothy’s Sewing Class

This story is posted by Dorothy Griffith from Canada, who together with her husband Gordon Fraser, came to Tchey School to teach sewing and build some desks, respectively. This is Dorothy’s account of her time with the students in her Sewing Class.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”

Learning to sew.

“I understand, T’Cha”. These are the three little words I have listened for while teaching these past six weeks. When I first began, I wondered how I would ever manage…me, speaking literally no Khmer, trying to teach hand sewing, mending and embroidery to forty students who spoke little or no English. That’s where Pove, our tuk-tuk driver came in. During the first couple of weeks, Pove taught me the Khmer words for needle, thread, left hand, right hand, and more. My imperfect pronunciation, combined with gesturing and lots of one-on-one demonstration got us through.

In the last six weeks, not only have we come to understand each other, we have come to communicate in the secret language of ‘sewing by showing’. We started with basic mending. which included how to repair a torn seam, how to hem, how to make a buttonhole and sew on buttons. During these first few weeks, the students applied their new skills by making a trinket bag with finger crochet drawstring, a bookmark complete with yarn tassel, a fabric ponytail holder, and a fabric ball. The ball was the biggest hit, and we spent the last part of that class tossing balls, laughing and learning how to juggle.

Once beyond basic stitches, I began to teach them embroidery, which is what they all had been so patiently waiting for. Each student was given a complete sewing kit, including measuring tape, scissors, needles, twelve spools of brightly colored thread, and fabric to make a drawstring bag to hold their treasures. This is where their true creativity and talents shone. In the following days, they returned to class with bags embellished with their names, scenery, flowers, hearts, and… “I love Dorothy”. I was truly touched.

They’ve got a lot of thread, and a lot of surface area to let their creativity shine. I’ve told them to go wild – to make this project their best – and I know they will.

During the past 2 weeks, they’ve learned a dozen or more fancy embroidery stitches, and now, in our last week, to bring all their skills together, they are constructing their final project, chosen unanimously – a school bag with a shoulder strap. Although the basic bags will be sewn together, with four days left to go in my class, I probably won’t get to see them decorated and embroidered. They’ve got a lot of thread, and a lot of surface area to let their creativity shine. I’ve told them to go wild – to make this project their best – and I know they will.

These are among the most imaginative and eager students I have ever met. Whenever I’ve given them a project, they have always surpassed my expectations. Without question, some of them produce even finer work than their teacher. I am so proud of them all!