Sunday, May 4, 2008

Project Sunday: ¿Usted habla español?

God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.

Mother Theresa

Well, the project I'd like to tell you about this weekend is a bit different. Instead of sewing something, I am going to try to teach someone how to sew something. Someone, that is, with whom I do not share a common language...

It all started with Ani. Remember how I have been sewing things for her - a hat for one of her nieces, an outfit for another niece, and then aprons for the kitchen staff at her restaurant? When I delivered the aprons, one woman asked (through Ani, as she only speaks Spanish and I only speak English) if I also knew how to sew clothes. Later, Ani told me that this woman, Anna, has tried to make some things - a tablecloth, an apron, etc. - in the past, without a tremendous amount of success.

It didn't take much to put two and two together and I started wondering if Anna might like some sewing lessons.

Well, what I was really wondering was: is there any way in the world that I could actually give sewing lessons to someone when we don't speak the same language? (Oh, and of course my friend Ani moved away last week - just a few days after I finished and delivered the aprons - and so is not available to help me with interpretation...)

So, here are my thoughts:

1. I did take Spanish in highschool (almost 30 years ago!), so while I don't remember enough to speak it on my own (unless there arises a pressing need to shout out the word "gato!" [cat]), I am at least vaguely familiar with the language and can probably read outloud (i.e., pronounce) written things well enough to be understood. (By someone patient and motivated.) (Downhill.) (In a hurricane.)

(My apologies to those of you who don't rememer the Joe Isuzu "liar" commercials.)

2. I have a laptop with an aircard that will allow me access to translation sites on the internet such as AltaVista's babel fish.

3. I'm thinking that sewing can probably be taught in large part through demonstration, even if communication is limited.

4. This is the basics I'm talking about - sundresses, simple skirts, simple tops, pajamas, elastic waistbands, installing zippers, maybe some darts and pleats, following instructions... Not couture sewing. Not fitted, lined jackets. Not draping or underlining. Just the basics.

At this point, I was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I could do this. But I still had one pretty big concern. Even if I did successfully walk Anna through making a couple of simple garments with patterns from the big 4, that wouldn't really set her up to sew on her own, because she wouldn't be able to buy a new pattern and read the English instructions by herself.

Well, it was Pattern Review to the rescue! (Not for the first time and not for the last!) Cidell recently posted a great article on foreign language pattern magazines and one of the Spanish magazines in particular caught my eye: Moldes - Paso Y Paso. According to Cidell, the styles are young and casual, and the patterns are geared toward the beginner to intermediate home sewer!

How perfect is that? If I can help Anna make a few of the patterns out of an issue of Moldes - Paso Y Paso, then she should be able to continue sewing on her own!

There are still some logistics to consider. Ani told me that Anna doesn't have a car or a sewing machine. No car means that I can't ask her to come to my house, so I'll have to find another place to have our lessons. I think I am going to ask the family that owns the restaurant if Anna and I could work there at times when the restaurant is not open - like first thing in the morning or on Sunday afternoons. I can take my machine and whatever else we need to the restaurant pretty easily. And think about all that table space we'd have to spread out on! ;)

As for the sewing machine, I was thinking that maybe I could purchase a small lock box and the two of us could start a sewing machine fund. I would match whatever amount she was able to put into it each week. Even if it was only $1.00 a week (each), it shouldn't take us more than half a year to save up enough to get her a decent used machine.

Finally, my other thought was that I could make up a bunch of flash cards with pictures and common sewing and design vocabulary in both English and Spanish. Of course I'd make two sets - one for me to practice the Spanish and one for Anna to practice the English.

So, that's where I'm at right now. I had been hoping to "talk" (i.e., read carefully prepared sentences off a sheet of paper) to Anna last Friday night, when we went to the restaurant for dinner, but unfortunately she had already left for the day. Hopefully, by next Sunday, I will be able to report back as to whether or not she is interested and willing to take me up on my offer. Fingers crossed!

Needless to say, I would greatly appreciate any advice, comments, guidance, thoughts, cautions, feedback, etc. at all about this project. I'm especially interested in thoughts on teaching sewing to a beginner and thoughts on the language situation and/or anything you think I should know about the Mexican culture that might catch a "gringa" by surprise. Thanks! :)


Claire said...

Gwen, I'm sorry I have no advice for you. The spanish I took in school was 30+ years ago. "No habla espanol! ;o) I'm posting a comment to offer congratulations to you for thinking of teaching this woman how to sew and going through the planning stages of how to accomplish the task. KUDOS!!! Wouldn't our world be a better place if we all offered a helping hand to our "neighbor" and worked to bridge the gaps that divide us. I will be watching your project with interest.

Also, I have some Italian pattern magazines I could send you. Italian and Spanish are so close that I'll bet she would find them useful also. They are a couple of years old, but probably still in style. Email me at cjcsews at yahoo dot com if you are interested. I don't check that email account daily so have patience if you don't hear from me. Better yet, leave a message in my blog if you send me an email.

cidell said...

This is great! I'm very excited for you. I swear I'll get the mag in the mail on Monday! Also, you can get that book in English, that might be helpful. I also spoke with my mom and she's going to look for a new edition.

MadeByAmanda said...

Wow, that's ambitious, but I do think sewing could mostly be taught be demonstration.

Maybe you could keep an eye out for sewing machines for $5 or $10 at garage sales, or ask on Freecycle if anyone has them.

Also, I think most Simplicity patterns (and possibly Butterick and Vogue, but I don't use them much) have instructions in English and Spanish. Also seems like the Hancocks that closed down here a year or so ago had some patterns that were in Spanish only.

MadeByAmanda said...

If you're going to be doing a lot of demonstration teaching, a good phrase to know is "Permiso", which basically means "Permit me" or "May I?"

Like, if she's sewing and something goes wrong, instead of just yanking it out of her hands and doing it yourself, say "Permiso?" and then take it and show her how to correct what's going wrong.

aguja = needle
maquina de coser = sewing machine
I think puntada = stitch, but I could be wrong.