mending communities, one sewing machine at a time

May 30 Volunteer Day!

Wow! We got lots done at Friday’s volunteer day! We had some new faces and some “regulars” but each and every person who showed up is amazing in their kindness, their hard work and their sense of community. At every single volunteer day I look around and marvel at these incredibly talented and kind people who believe in what The Sewing Machine Project is about. So much so that they are willing to give up part or all of a sunny, beautiful day to work on machines! It’s a beautiful thing :-).

We are all so grateful for this good help and even moreso for all of you who believe in these little efforts towards building community. Mother Teresa said “we do not do big things but we do little things with great love”. Yes, we do.

Thank you!

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It all comes together


Brand new sewers

The email came in at 7pm last night….we had sent a preliminary update to a local center where we offer classes with a new class idea a few months back, tentatively suggesting today as a starting date. But we hadn’t heard anything….so we figured it wasn’t happening. That’s ok, we thought, we’ll work on planning some new dates.

Then the email arrived. “Here’s the roster for the class starting tomorrow,” it read, “there are 10 students signed up!” My heart began to pound as I read it. Of course, we’re thrilled that so many students have signed up, but with less than 24 hours notice could we pull it together?  I called our teacher, Rebecca…her cheery voice rang through the phone…”sure, I’ll just need to change an appointment but that should be ok.”

In preparation, a student had written some vocabulary.

In preparation, a student had written some vocabulary.



There are things to do to prepare for a class…gather a set of appropriate machines, making sure they’ve been checked and are ready to sew, gather materials for student sewing kits, make sure Rebecca has everything she needs to teach. And oh yes, volunteers to help! I called two board members “could you help me gather machines and supplies first thing tomorrow morning?” I asked, trying not to sound too panicked. I sent out a quick email this morning asking any volunteers who might have some time today to help us out.


The Genie!

The Genie!

As I was preparing to leave for the church this morning my daughter, Maddie, offered to help us out too. So off we went, meeting Bird and Jane at the church. We gathered machines, even taking time to marvel at the “Genie” machine….a groovy older model we all fell in love with. Jane and Bird’s cheery smiles and warm voices were so soothing. After the church,  Maddie and I headed over to the CMC to get set up.

Rebecca arrived and the three of us got it all set up. And as the students arrived one by one, I felt that familiar feeling of “it’ll all be alright.” We had a smaller class today and Rebecca taught in her Spanish that improves every time I hear her. She tells me that she’d like to move to Uruguay someday…I hope not anytime soon…

Roberta gets the machine unstuck

Roberta gets the machine unstuck

And the students learned and sewed. I love how they talk and laugh and help each other and I love watching Rebecca do what she does so well. At 1:00 Roberta, one of our wonderful volunteers, walked through the door. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here earlier” she said. And she flowed right into the group, helping a stuck machine, guiding an errant thread back to its thread path.

Sewing, helping one another, sharing stories while they create….that’s what happens in these classes and even though I’ve seen it over and over, it takes my breath away every time.

Fixin’ machines!

Katie and Linda head up inventory

Katie and Linda head up inventory

Volunteers came together this past Saturday to work on the machines that have been donated. Wow, did we have machines!! Our amazing volunteers helped organize, check, and inventory machines all day long.

At the same time, in the same church, our local American Sewing Guild (ASG) chapter held a fabric sale with all of the proceeds going to The Sewing Machine Project. Volunteers from both efforts worked together to make the entire day a success.

I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who gave a part of their day to help out and to support the SMP. It really is fun and we got so much done!

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Life’s A Stitch-our newest collection site!

Life’s a Stitch is a Bernina dealership located in DePere, Wisconsin. I was honored when just this morning they drove in from DePere to deliver 35 beautiful machines that had been donated through Bernina’s Give and Get Back promotion that ran through the summer. All of the machines were checked over and everything! So Awesome!!

And following that tremendous gift they offered to become a regular collection site. We’ve been looking for a dealership in that area to help us out and here they are.

We are thrilled and honored to add them to our list of Partners.

Local Classes-Teaching and Learning

IMG_2139This summer we’ve offered two class series here in Madison. Our wonderful instructor, Rebecca Sites teaches  both series–1 in Spanish at the Catholic Multicultural Center and 1 through a translator to Hmong women at the Bayview Center. Both classes wrapped up in the past week and I visited the last Hmong class last night.

The women in the class were working busily when I arrived, their voices a melody with the sewing machines humming the background. Laughing, discussing, asking questions, they never rested, it seemed. They were finishing up tote bags that they’d designed with Rebecca’s help. Mee, the translator, is a sewist herself so a great help for these classes.

The classes meet in the evening because the women, all elders, spend their days at Kasjiab House, a very special place and program developed for Hmong elders to feel safe, receive counseling, learn more about American culture, and celebrate and express their own culture. Despite the fact that the elder women had been busy all day they had plenty of energy to sew in the evening. Their cultural background includes plenty of intricate handwork and they are excited to learn to use a sewing machine and, at the end of the class series, take home a machine of their own.

I was Rebecca’s backup, doing minor machine repairs and answering questions. Rebecca, as always, taught in her beautiful relaxed way. As I sat beside one woman after another I marveled at the warmth I felt, not only between the women, but extended to me as well. I watched as they carefully stitched their bags together. I smiled as they joked with one another (“your tote bag is so big you could carry one of us in it!”, the translator shared with me).

I love the fact that older people are called elders and are revered as a source of wisdom.

On the surface one might think that in these classes we are the teachers but we are the students as well.

Flood gates open

If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was 'thank you', that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart

If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was ‘thank you’, that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart

The Sewing Machine Project is such an amazing thing. I’m struck so often by the beauty and intensity of it and also its mystery. It is a Sunday afternoon and I’m recording donations and saying thank you to donors and to this beautiful energy that makes this all work. I am in awe.

Not too long ago it seemed like things had slowed down a bit. I struggle with these times and find myself feeling like I need to push, to make things happen. Not the first time this has happened and certainly not the last, but each time I go through the same struggle…wondering why things aren’t moving more and trying to push them to move.

It’s when I let go that things happen. It’s when I rest in the fact that things aren’t always visible to me but I need to trust that all is as it should be. So I let go and it was as if that was the key to burst the flood gates wide open. Goodness is pouring in. Our local programs are growing and we’ll add  a new center this summer here in Madison. I needed to find a group just a little further away to work on piloting this program and the group emerged–a wonderful organization helping Somali refugees find their feet in Northern Wisconsin. And as I wondered how we’d make this available to groups in other states I heard from a tiny community college in rural Mississippi in an area where most people don’t have the means to take a course in basic sewing–they were contacting me with the dream of offering basic lessons at no charge and could we help them? Yes, I was able to confidently say, we can help you and how about if the participants not only learn to sew but get to keep the machines?

Our recent shipments to other countries have taught us that we have a lot to learn about navigating customs and also that we don’t have the budget for these expensive shipments. And now I’m hearing from groups that have their shipping in place or are ready to hand carry the machines to Uganda, to Nicaragua, to Honduras…

I am sitting here writing this and saying so many grateful prayers. I feel so lucky to be able to share this good news and even luckier to guide The Sewing Machine Project.

Margaret’s blog

I’ve started a personal blog which includes some “spiritual musings” as a friend so aptly labeled them. I just needed a forum to talk about some of the more personal aspects of life along with the discoveries along the way.

The Sewing Machine Project has affected my spirituality but I want to be clear that this is a personal thing. I, in no way, wish to align the SMP with any religious leaning. I simply wish to share how the building of this organization has changed me.

It’s a vulnerable thing to release a blog. To tell you the truth, I’ve been adding to it for awhile just in private…which kind of defeats the purpose of a blog! I don’t pretend to corner the market on insight or spirituality or anything else. I just know that the building of this organization and all of the richness and beauty surrounding it have profoundly changed my life.

So I send you this link along with my humble request for patience and consideration.


giving-handsThere are so many people who step forward to help The Sewing Machine Project. I feel I live in this world of constant gratitude…it’s a pretty nice place to be. I am humbled and thrilled by how this idea is received and by all the ways people connect with it.

There are our donors–people who share their wonderful machines, notions, thread, fabric and the very important funding that keeps us afloat. Often machines donations arrive with notes about how a machine was used, the memories attached. Checks arrive with letters encouraging us to continue the work we do, and so often they include a memory of a beloved sewer. Every single donation causes me to pause and quietly say thank you.

There are our board members–an amazing and active group, creative and wise, who listen, counsel, and work so hard to keep us going and growing. They allow me to envision new plans for the SMP and dare to dream along with me. I feel new energy after each board meeting.

There are our volunteers–and that list is growing. We have incredible and talented volunteers who give entire days to this organization–helping work on machines, helping to sew, stepping in to help whenever needed. Our volunteers work so hard and, at the same time, enjoy the connection with one another. A total win win!

But there is a group that I feel needs a label…and today I realized they’re angels. These are the people who keep me going…the care and feeding of a director. Yesterday some of these angels appeared–dear friends who propped me up when I was feeling really stuck. They quietly and gracefully stepped in and helped me with a reorganization project…staying til it was completely done. Chatting and listening to music, sipping tea and working, I hope they didn’t get to tired of me thanking them again and again.

Angels. People who step in just as you need them. People who listen and dream right along with you. People who ask “how can I help?” and mean it. People who quietly circle around you and are there to catch you when you start to fall. We all have angels in our lives. I’m so grateful for the ones in mine.

Sewing Volunteer Day

Margaret and Michelle keep the market bags coming

Margaret and Michelle keep the market bags coming

We’ve been offered the chance to do a fundraiser at Covance, a drug testing company here in Madison. Hmmmm, what to do for a fundraiser?? Sell handmade goods, of course! My dream would be to sell goods made by those who receive our machines….the fair trade sale…and someday, that’s going to happen. But this fundraiser is next month–yikes! So we need to get sewing. I sent out a notice to our volunteer email list and got a great response.

This past Saturday, 18 people came to the church and we began to sew. We worked on 3 different bag designs:

A little zip pouch:


A Dopp kit:


And a Market Bag:


We have so much beautiful fabric, left to us by a wonderful sewer who left this world too soon. We hope she was smiling as sewers met each other and worked side by side to create these products.

Bird's smile alone makes me smile.

Bird’s smile alone makes me smile.

I love these volunteer days. People who’ve never met are instant friends and talking and laughter fills the room. I was thrilled to see Michelle Bartels and her two friends arrive all the way from Iowa. Even Michelle’s husband, Louie helped out, smiling as he assisted with the set up and take down.

Katie and Dellavie figure out the machines.

Katie and Dellavie figure out the machines.

These days are like magic to me. I looked around the room several times and got all teary, just seeing and feeling the community. These days are about a lot more than sewing and getting things done. They’re about building community and I realize more and more that that is a big part of what we’re about…not only in the machines we distribute but also in the opportunities we present to grow and learn with one another.

If you or anyone you know is interested in volunteering, just send me a quick email through this website and I’ll add you to the list. Our volunteer opportunities are a “no pressure” deal. If you can’t make it we understand. But to make it is special…you’ll see.

Eileen, Marion and Debbie keep the bags coming

Eileen, Marion and Debbie keep the bags coming


Diann and Liz keep the market bags coming


Becky gets our beautiful SMP labels on just right

Becky gets our beautiful SMP labels on just right





Deb subtly suggests that maybe her ironing board is too high

Deb subtly suggests that maybe her ironing board is too high

Passing along a sweet blog post about the SMP

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