Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting Up to Speed – Scarf Project

For the past month and a half or so Katie and I have been helping with Fount of Mercy’s latest project –handmade batik scarves to be sold in the good ol’ US of A.

The Scarf Project is our first attempt at selling goods made by Ugandans in the US market, and it is certainly a learning experience to say the least. What makes this undertaking possible is that the scarves are actually being sold by an organization called The GO Exchange.

What’s The GO Exchange? I’ll probably get this wrong, but here it goes. The website explains the organization as ‘a living and active global marketplace that changes lives; ALL PROFITS go to help care for orphaned and abandoned children’ ( So basically it’s an online marketplace selling goods made by people in other countries, with the profits going directly to helping orphaned children. We sell the scarves to GO then they resell them on their website as well as at home shows – so if, come September, you feel like buying a scarf, you can! Just make sure you type ‘Fount of Mercy’ in the Affiliation box on the billing page so we will receive an extra 15% on anything you buy from the website! . . . and you probably want to really try to make sure you do that, seeing as we’re not making any money off of this, but simply breaking even – hopefully. . .

So what exactly does it take to create a one-of-a-kind, beautiful, hand batik scarf? Allow me to try to explain.

First you wash the fabric to preshrink the scarves. Next you cut to size and batik, as you can see Esther measuring a piece out below.  

The batiking is accomplished by painting melted paraffin wax onto the fabric. Making batik look good is actually way harder than it looks! Katie and I tried it for a couple of days and our scarves didn’t look nearly as good or get completed as fast as those of the seasoned Scarf Gang. That’s just a name I’ve taken to calling the employees at the scarf workshop (though they don't know it).

Once the wax has been applied it’s time to dye the fabric! Depending on the color, the scarves will stay in the dye bath for varying amounts of time. Below you can see Janet stirring the bath to insure an even dying of the scarf as well as what the bath looks like just after adding the dye.

After the dying is finished the scarves are hung on the line to dry and then boiled after that to remove the wax. Below, another of our interns, Yevette, takes the boiled scarf out of the pot.

A final rinse to get the wax pieces off follows the boil and then another round on the line to dry.

Next, the scarves are ironed between sheets of newspaper to get rid of any remaining wax off of the scarves. Hemming up all four sides comes next and then a final once over with the iron.

At home Katie and I apply iron-on transfer tags, then fold and package the scarves. And voila, a handmade batik scarf is complete!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Beauty and The Hairy Beast

Ok, completely random topic, but I swear, Ugandans have virtually no body hair. Really, it's like it's not even there! At least for the women . . . and with regards to their arms and legs (it's not uncommon to see a woman, young or old, with some whiskers on her face. But that is usually caused by a genetics or hormones, so it's completely different). You can pass them every day on the street, many different people, and the result is always the same, seemingly smooth arms and legs.

Now I'm not an overly hairy person, but put my arm next to a Ugandan woman's and I start resembling a Grizzly in comparison. Exaggeration? Maybe a little bit, but it paints a pretty nice picture. I know that these physical differences stem from different groups living and evolving in very different places, near the equator and very far from it. However, it is still comes as a shock to see how different we are, skin color aside.

Another seemingly small difference, but one I noticed nonetheless, is the curliness of Ugandans' eyelashes. Those things are curled! And I'm talking pull a U-turn and go straight back to the eyelid curl! If I had a good picture to illustrate this, I would show you. But I don't, so you'll just have to use your imagination.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Class is in Session!

Looking into the classroom
Eight students sit in pairs behind four treadle sewing machines. Two teachers stand or sit at the front of the small room, next to the chalkboard.  And two white girls sit off to the side observing the classroom and its happenings. What does all of this mean? The time has finally come (well, actually it came about 2 weeks ago). The beginning sewing class has officially begun!

As most of you know, this sewing class is the butter to my bread, the main reason I wanted to return to Jinja and resume working with Fount of Mercy.  Having written the curriculum and trained Sarah and Margaret to teach it, I was very eager to see how my hard work would actually play out in the classroom.  This wasn’t however, without a few unexpected turns.

Sarah (r) & Margaret (l) in action
The first occurred before I even arrived in Uganda.  Upon my ‘homecoming’ I quickly learned that Margaret would not be available to co-teach our first round of classes. I was very disappointed at learning this fact, as I had taken quite a liking to her last February during training. Despite this setback, I was informed we had already found a very capable replacement teacher whose name, wouldn’t you know it, was also Margaret.  

With the teachers in place, the next step was arranging a start date for the course.  Originally we were told early August, and after shifting the date a few more times we had it. At 9am on Tuesday, July 23rd Sarah, (new) Margaret, Katie and I met at the office then walked over to class, where we would meet every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am – 1pm for the next twelve weeks. 

I was a bit nervous to see how class would go. I was preparing for the worst (i.e. each class being a near if not total disaster and having to make monumental revisions to the curriculum) but hoping for the best.  I had no idea how it would go - I’d basically just met Margaret and had no idea of her teaching style or how she’d work with Sarah, among a number of other reservations I had
Learning how to thread the machine
weighing on me. But at the end of class that first Tuesday I couldn’t have been more pleased. Sarah and Margaret worked so well together!!! I don’t think I could have planned it better! When one teacher was lecturing the other would be writing on the board or demonstrating and vise versa.  To summarize, the first day of class could not have gone better!

 As mentioned at the beginning we have 8 students, 7 women and 1 man. We also have a ‘teacher-in-training’ named Sylvia. She is a member of the group but already has tailoring skills and will be learning how the class is taught from Sarah and Margaret so she can teach it to future groups. The classroom is small and each sewing machine is shared by two students.  The group varies in age, but I would say the majority of the students are pretty young (at least in comparison to the business classes, where most of the students were significantly older).

So far the four classes we’ve had have gone well. All of the students seem to be very smart and eager to learn, which is exciting and encouraging. However, it became quite clear this last week that learning measurements and how to read a ruler/tape measure is much harder than I remembered.  The result of this is getting behind schedule. My goal
was to get through at least 1 lesson each day,
Explaining measurements
but so far we've only completed 2. Only time will tell how long the course will actually take to complete.We estimated 12 weeks,but I don’t have much faith in finishing up that quickly. Things tend to take much longer than anticipated, especially when two people are sharing a sewing machine. I’m just hoping we can finish up before 16 weeks (especially because if we go much longer than 12, we’ll need to scrounge up more money to pay Sarah and Margaret with!).

Until next time . . . 
Leaving after class