Stitching Lives Back Together, One Sewing Machine At A Time

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Stitching Lives Back Together, One Sewing Machine At A Time

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The Sewing Machine Project began in 2005 following the devastating tsunami of December 2004 in Southeast Asia. It decimated communities, hurled fishing boats inland, wrecked coastlines and livelihoods, and killed 230,000 people. Images of the destruction were heartbreaking but one story, an article on the internet, gave painful details about a woman who had lost her sewing machine in the storm: amachine she’d saved for years to buy, enabling her to earn a meagre living. Now it was gone.

It was this story that touched Margaret Jankowski, founder of The Sewing Machine Project, most deeply. She made an appeal on television and was inundated with sewing machines. She managed to raise money for voltage converters and shipping, and in 2005, with the help of the American Hindu Association, sent five boxes each to five orphanages in India and Sri Lanka, packed with toys, medical supplies, fabric, and the most precious cargo – a sewing machine.

“They were used to sew for kids,” she says. “They were also used to teach kids a trade, which I felt was really important,” says Margaret.

It didn’t end there. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in September 2005, The Sewing Machine Project’s focus shifted to that region. From 2005 to today, the SMP has delivered over 3,000 sewing machines to individuals, schools and community centres in the greater New Orleans area.

Margaret Jankowski. Image via The Sewing Machine Project

People are using them not only to rebuild their lives but also to start small sewing-related businesses.

“Resiliency—bending and swaying in the face of challenge—shows up everywhere. We adapt and we look to one another for support. Together—all of us—are working to meet the needs of those who can benefit from the healing power of sewing,” Margaret explains.

The company works with groups committed to using the machines to provide opportunities to create, learn new skills, build self-confidence, and contribute to their own livelihoods and the well being of their families and communities.

We believe that everyone has the power to make the world a better place. So we share sewing machines–creating partnerships, strengthening community, and nurturing the creative spirit.

Margaret Jankowski

The Sewing Machine Project now operates on a local, national and international level offering machines and creative opportunities. One of the primary tenets of the SMP is the idea of Paying it Forward — they ask that every person receiving a machine “pays it forward” in a sewing-related way. This idea gives their work a ripple effect and reminds the recipients that despite their own difficult circumstances, they as individuals are important and capable of making a positive difference in their community, thus offering them a renewed feeling of self-worth.

The machines have been sent to coffee pickers in Guatemala, women who help vulnerable girls in Guam, and war widows in Kosovo. It’s sent them to help Syrian and Yemeni refugee women, incarcerated women in Mississippi, and sewers of Mardi Gras outfits in New Orleans.

It’s never enough though, and Margaret would like to do more. To give an idea here are a few specific costs:

  • $40 covers packing materials and shipping costs to ship one machine within the U.S.
  • $50 covers the cost of sewing kits and classroom supplies for one 6-week class
  • $100 will cover machine repairs when necessary
  • $350 will cover the cost of an instructor to teach one 6-week local class
  • $500 will send 30 machines to a community in need within the United States.

“I probably get 10 to 15 emails a week from international groups saying, ‘Can we get some sewing machines?’” she says. “We don’t have the money.” And she hopes to be able to start sewing schools in villages one day, but says, “We can’t do that now.”

“At the beginning, I didn’t know if there was enough need,” Margaret says. “Good Lord, there’s plenty of need.”

If you wish to help, click on the links below to find out more and make a difference.

To donate sewing machines click, here.

To donate money, click here.

To donate fabric and supplies, click here.

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